• Arsenal manager admits 'we were not at the races'
• Stoke counterpart Mark Hughes praises his side's intensity
Arsène Wenger disputes the commonly held view that Arsenal tend to fade at this stage of the season – "Everybody repeats that so often it becomes an opinion, when in fact if you look at the records we have always been strong towards the finish" – though cannot deny that recent away form has cost his side important ground in the title race.
"At home we are still playing well, but at Liverpool and Stoke we were not at the races," the Arsenal manager said of two away defeats in a row. With Chelsea now four points ahead in the Premier League, the temptation must be for Arsenal to regroup and focus their efforts on Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final against Everton, except Wenger still wants to carry on fighting on both fronts.
"You don't throw away the championship because you want to win the FA Cup," he said. "We needed to take something from this game, we were expected to perform and we didn't. It was the sort of game where you cannot afford to make a mistake, but we did not produce enough going forward and were punished as a result. I think Stoke got a bit lucky with the penalty, I am not sure Laurent Koscielny could take his hand away in time, so we are unhappy because a draw would have been a fair result."
That reasoning is sound enough, but a point at the Britannia would not have greatly helped Arsenal in their title charge and the visitors needed to show more ambition and attacking imagination than they served up in a disappointing display.
Stoke were not that scintillating either, but they worked hard, lived up to their reputation for spikiness and, while the game remained goalless, were always likely to snatch a winner from a set-piece or dead-ball situation.
They almost managed it after an hour when Charlie Adam's free-kick picked out Peter Crouch in front of goal, only for the striker to attempt to bring the ball down rather than attack it with his head and succeed only in helping Arsenal clear the danger.
That, as Wenger pointed out, was Stoke's only chance of the game apart from the penalty that Jon Walters tucked away after Koscielny was slightly harshly penalised for handball, though the list of Arsenal goal attempts was similarly short. Only when Mesut Özil came on for the last half hour did Arsenal begin to look even slightly lively, and the German was unlucky with a shot that rolled narrowly wide of a post after a neat interchange with Olivier Giroud.
Wenger confirmed Özil was fit, but said he kept him on the bench because he had played a lot of games, though it seems equally likely that he was worried a player of such slight physique and delicate touch might be marked out for particular attention by Stoke's infamous rowdies.
In the event the home side ganged up on Giroud instead, and from Wenger's pointed refusual to discuss the referee's performance it was clear he was unimpressed by the amount of protection offered by the referee, Mike Jones.
Glenn Whelan, Erik Pieters and Adam all had a go at the Frenchman with various degrees of subtlety, though it was the final, unpunished stamp from Adam that incensed Arsenal followers most.
Naturally Mark Hughes did not see it, although he wisely withdrew the Scotland midfielder from the fray a few minutes later, and said he doubted whether anyone would wish to dwell on the incident when there were so many positives on which to focus.
Wenger has previous with Hughes and his over-physical approach, and contented himself with pointing out that Stoke are the Premier League side with the most fouls against their name.
None of that concerned the home supporters singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and "One nil to the rugby team" at the end, though in fairness to Hughes Arsenal have now joined Chelsea and Manchester United among the vanquished at the Britannia, and it has not all been achieved by skulduggery or rugby tactics.
"We had more intensity than Arsenal, we took the game away from them," the Stoke manager said. "We seem to be able to do that against the top teams. Why we don't do it against the so-called lesser sides is something I have been trying to work out myself."
Man of the match: Steven Nzonzi (Stoke)