Arsenal defeated Stoke City today 3-1 at the Emirates, continuing their streak of 14 matches unbeaten in the league.
Arsene Wenger made 6 changes from midweek, using same XI as he did last weekend against West Ham United. The only difference in the squad from those two matches was the omission of Aaron Ramsey, who reportedly has a slight hamstring injury, and the return of Hêctor Bellerín.
In the early goings, the visitors were on top of proceedings, harrying Arsenal and not giving them space to attack. Xherdan Shaqiri had an opportunity to have a shot on goal on a dangerous counterattack within the first couple of minutes but hesitated just long enough to allow Francis Coquelin to recover. Three corner kicks later, Arsenal switched on.
The Gunners’ possession game began to take hold and the Gunners were well on top for much of the early going.
Against the run of play, Stoke City had a decent opportunity in the 23rd minute through a long ball to Mathieu Debuchy’s former assaulter, Marko Arnautović. The attacker’s run in between Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel was found well and he laid the ball off to the midfield run of Joe Allen. The Welshman’s shot flew well wide.
In that attack, Mustafi picked up a hamstring injury and was forced to come off. Gabriel slid over to centerback and Bellerín came on at right back.
Stoke City got their big break in the 27th minute as Lee Mason awarded them a penalty. Granit Xhaka caught Allen in the face with his elbow on a challenge. It did not appear to be intentional from the Swiss midfielder, which Mason seemed to agree with as he did not show Xhaka a card, but it was elbow to head and thus a foul. After Allen was treated for his head injury, Charlie Adam sent Petr Čech the wrong way to put Stoke City ahead 1-0.
Arsenal regrouped after the goal and began to make more out of their possession play. Bellerín was increasingly threatening down the right flank and nearly had a great chance as a Bellerín cross was deflected into the path of Mesut Özil. Only a well-timed tackle stopped the home side from evening things up.
The Gunners did level proceedings through a brilliant bit a team play in the 42nd minute. Moving the ball quickly around the right side of attack between Theo Walcott, Bellerín, Xhaka, and Alexis Sánchez dragged the Stoke City defense out of position and Alexis was able to find Bellerín streaking down the right hand side of the box. His fizzed in near post cross was expertly turned into the back of the net by Walcott. While Gabriel has filled in admirably in recent weeks, it was an attacking move that has been sorely missed while Bellerín was recovering from injury.
Arsenal maintained their pressure with Alexis firing just over the bar on a long range effort moments after the goal. In the 47th minute, Xhaka found Bellerín again in space, however, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could not turn home the Spaniard’s cutback cross.
Arsenal quickly took the lead in a second half on a Özil headed goal. The German’s run was played onside by Gianneli Imbula and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lofted cross was played into no man’s land. Lee Grant was of two minds and stuck to watch Özil float his header over the keeper and into the back of the net.
Arsenal continued to pile on pressure with Alexis a constant threat to Stoke City’s defense. The biggest chance came in the 63rd minute as Özil’s throughball found the Chilean only for an onrushing Stoke City defender to clear at the last moment.
The Gunners made their second substitution in the 69th minute and it was a nice one as Alex Iwobi came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was another solid performance by Oxlade-Chamberlain, capped by his wonderful assist for the Gunners’ second. More heartening was Arsene Wenger going for the jugular with a like for like attacking substitution as opposed to bringing on Kieran Gibbs to kill off the game. It was a decision that would pay dividends almost immediately.
After Peter Crouch made Arsenal fans’ hearts jump up into their throats with a header that Čech saved well, Arsenal made it 3-1 through the substitute Iwobi. Iwobi had played through Alexis on the left hand side only for Bruno Martins Indi to fell the Arsenal talisman. Fortunately for the Gunners, Lee Mason played the advantage as Iwobi picked up the ball and streaked into the box unmarked. Iwobi hit it hard and low to the goalkeeper’s left just under the hand of Grant. It was a confident finish from the youngster who so often has fired it tamely at the goalkeeper in those situations.
Shortly after the goal, Olivier Giroud was Arsenal’s last substitute, coming on for Alexis who hadn’t fully shaken off the hard challenge from Martins Indi. Arsenal continued to dominate, even after the removal of their most dangerous attacker on the day with Walcott coming close to making it 4 in the 82nd minute. Giroud had a chance to make it 4-1 with the last touch, but Bellerín’s cross was just behind him enough that he could not make good contact on his header.
All in all, it was a solid performance from the Gunners who attacked well and largely minimized the attacking threat of the visiting side. The only concern is the status of Mustafi after a hamstring injury forced him off. With 6 matches in the next month, it would be a very inopportune time for Mustafi to beat out for any length of time.
The win puts Arsenal on top of the table, as their superior Goals Scored put them on top of Chelsea, who has the same number of points and Goal Difference with one less match played.