Arsenal: Ospina, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Cazorla, Alexis, Giroud
Subs: Szczesny, Bellerin, Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil, Campbell, Walcott
Arsenal got their first Premier League win of 2015 with a comfortable, a times hugely impressive, win over a sly and violent Stoke City at the Emirates today.
Arsene Wenger made some positive changes from the team who beat Hull, with Ospina keeping his place and Koscielny and Debuchy coming in to make up a strong looking back four. With starts for Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ozil, Ramsey and Walcott on the bench, we looked to be close to full strength.
Arsenal started brightly and within the first two minutes Alexis produced a fine fingertip save from Begovic as he tried to curl a shot from just inside the edge of the box.
5 minutes in and a great driving run from Rosicky on the right hand side finished with another great save from Begovic. The resulting corner, was, as expected; rubbish, but Alexis picked up the clearance on the left wing and curled in a lovely cross for Koscienly to powerfully head home. 1-0.
Debuchy had to be stretchered off after a sly off the ball barge from Arnautovic left him in a heap by our goal. Bellerin came on to replace him, but the Frenchman suffered a dislocated shoulder in the incident and it’s not yet known how long he’ll be out for.
Oxlade-Chamberlain came close to making it two nil when he picked up the ball in midfield fired a shot only inches wide of the post.
Arsenal kept up the relentless pressure and should have put ourselves clear with two good chances for Alexis and Giroud, one saved well from Begovic and the other blasted high over the bar when it should have been at least on target.
Stoke looked absolutely toothless in the first half but almost caught Ospina out by surprise when a wayward cross nearly crept in on his near post, but he was alert to the danger. Whelan then blasted well over the bar when, after a free kick, we allowed him a free shot on the edge of area that he should have done better with.
Then after Sanchez jumped on a loose pass from Nzonzi he played a lovely one two with Rosicky on the left hand side, skipping into the area and finishing neatly into the near post. Sexy stuff, 2-0.
As expected the half was peppered with nasty late challenges from Stoke throughout, with Monreal taking an elbow to the face and Mertesacker having a few afters with Crouch. Giroud and Shawcross were involved in a running battle throughout too, but there was no repeat of the QPR nonsense from the Frenchman despite the Head Orc’s attempts to wind him up.
Although in the 5 minutes of first half injury time Stoke had a few half chances we finished the stronger and took the two goal lead into the break.
The second half started brightly with a run from Chamberlain getting brought down on the edge of the box. Alexis stepped up to the resulting free kick and even though he blasted it straight it at the wall the ball deflected off the wall and squirmed through Begovic’s hands in slow motion to creep into the corner. 3-0.
With us three to the good the game looked to be going through the motions, Stoke blasting over from a speculative free kick and Arsenal generally keeping the orcs at arm’s length.
We kept probing though, and the evergreen Alexis made a few probing runs that were causing problems in the Stoke defence.
After some unnecessary showboating from the Ox in our own half Stoke almost pinched one back when a decent cross was headed just wide of Ospina’s near post.
We always looked dangerous though, with Rosicky and Alexis constantly harassing their defence. Oxlade and Carzola combined together beautifully on their right hand side to put Santi through, but at a very tight angle he tried an audacious chip and it clipped the bar and went over.
That was the Ox’s last impact on the game as he was replaced by Walcott on 67th minute.
The game was really stagnating at this point, as both sides seemed content just to play out the game, but the crowd gave a lovely reception to welcome back Mesut Ozil, as he replaced Giroud on the 72nd minute.
Alexis tried a cheeky lob from distance just because he can do whatever he wants these days and Stoke then laughably had a goal disallowed when Cameron chipped over Ospina but was ruled offside from a headed Crouch pass.
We had a great chance to make it even more embarrassing for Stoke when we countered brilliantly with Alexis leading the charge, and when he fed Walcott through for a clean one on one he showed his rustiness again by dragging his shot wide. You sense a goal for Theo would really help his comeback no end.
Cazorla then fed a perfectly weighted pass for Ozil down their right hand side but Ozil lacked composure in his finishing and blasted high and wide.
Ospina then justified his starting place with a few commanding claims in his area and a smart save down low to his right.
As the game petered out Alexis kept up his relentless energy with a driving run but was cut out with a sliding challenge on the edge of their area.
In the end it couldn’t have been more different from the game at the Britannia Stadium in December. Arsenal controlled the game from start to finish and thoroughly deserved the three points.