Starting XI: Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Holding, Bellerin, Coquelin, Xhaka, Monreal, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Ramsey, Walcott, Iwobi, Welbeck, Elneny
Arsenal closed the gap on fourth-place Liverpool to one point as they secured their first win at Stoke City since 2010 with a classy 4-1 win.
The Gunners dominated throughout and deserved their half time lead as Olivier Giroud tapped home Hector Bellerin’s cross from close range. Mesut Ozil doubled the advantage after great work from Alexis before Peter Crouch, with a blatant handball, reduced the deficit on 67 minutes. Arsene Wenger’s men weathered a brief onslaught from the home side before Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud killed the game.
So often in past fixtures at Stoke, the home side have unsettled Wenger sides by roaring out of the traps, snapping into challenges and pressing high up the pitch. That wasn’t the case on this occasion as Hughes’ men sat deep, affording the Gunners plenty of space in midfield where the likes of Xhaka and Ozil enjoyed spraying passes about the pitch.
Arsenal were confident in possession with particular joy coming down the left as Monreal and Sanchez charged behind the Stoke defence to chase diagonal balls. Both men couldn’t quite get the ball down in time to get off shots. The Spaniard did hit the post on 16 minutes with a header from a Bellerin cross, that coming after Mustafi had forced Jack Butland to tip over from a corner.
The Gunners looked relatively comfortable at the back until a rash, late challenge by Mustafi on Shaqiri earned the German a booking and Stoke a chance to shoot at goal from the edge of the box. Arnautovic curled his effort just over.
Arsenal finally got the goal their dominant performance deserved on 41 minutes and somewhat surprisingly, it was Francis Coquelin who played a key part in picking the Stoke lock. The Frenchman, in for Aaron Ramsey and playing further up the pitch than usual, delivered a defence-splitting pass for Hector Bellerin who looked up and squared for Olivier Giroud to tap in his second goal in four days. (1-0)
So lacklustre were Stoke that when the referee blew his whistle for half time they were greeted with hearty boos by their own support. Mark Hughes looked particularly naffed off.
Ten minutes after half time the Gunners consolidated their position with a fantastic second goal by Mesut Ozil. The German picked up the ball in the centre of the park, fed the ball to Alexis and then continued his run into the box. The Chilean knew exactly what he wanted to do, he just needed to get the weight on the through ball right. It was perfect and allowed Ozil to take a touch before clipping over Butland. Arguably, one of the Gunners best goals of the season. (2-0)
Stoke really should have reduced the deficit just before the hour but Mame Biram Diouf somehow headed wide from two yards out after Arnautovic had turned Holding and delivered a cross from the by-line. A let-off for the Gunners.
The home side continued to pressure, winning a succession of corners that were aimed at substitute Peter Crouch. For the most part, Arsenal dealt with the threat although Bruno Martins Indi did test Cech with a header.
The pressure finely told on 67 minutes but there was huge controversy about the way the ball ended up in the back of the Arsenal net. In real time it looked as though Crouch had headed Arnautovic’s cross past Cech, but replays showed the striker had shamelessly used his hand. Wenger went apoplectic on the touchline. And rightly so. (2-1)
Things looked liked going from bad to worse for the Gunners when Alexis Sanchez signalled to the bench that he needed to come off. The Chilean was holding his thigh and looked in pain, but with the bench sluggish to react he was left on. Amazingly, he made a telling final contribution, scoring the goal that finally killed Stoke’s resistance.
How he found the energy to charge at the Stoke box and smash home, with the aid of a slight deflection, was astonishing. He really is a freak of nature. (3-1)
Alexis trudged off, receiving a high five from Wenger, a hug from Vic Akers and Aaron Ramsey was sent on. The Welshman had a chance to score immediately but could only shoot straight at Butland. The reprieve for the home side was temporary. Again Ramsey burst forward, this time he picked out Giroud who slid home for his second of the game. (4-1)
The win takes the Gunners up to 69 points and keeps the pressure on Liverpool who travel to West Ham tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be all eyes on the London Stadium where we need Slaven Bilic’s men to do us a favour.