Arsenal headed to Stoke City for a must win match if they want to qualify for the Champions League again, and win they did, and they even managed to look pretty good for a bit while doing it.
The Gunners were clearly the better team throughout the first half, controlling possession for basically the entire period, although admittedly against a Stoke City team that didn’t seem to concerned with possessing the ball. Stoke didn’t even really begin to push the match open until the around the 30 minute mark, and frankly never put together any particularly dangerous looking strings of attacking play even after that.
Still, Arsenal couldn’t quite finish their chances for much of the half. Interestingly, the most dangerous looks seemed to come from long passes to Nacho Monreal as he was making runs behind the defense from that left wingback role, but he could never get a good enough touch to on the ball to create a goal. Finally, late in the half, Francis Coquelin sent a nice pass to Héctor Bellerín out wide who was able to cross the ball to Giroud in the six-yard-box for a simple finish and goal, allowing the Gunners to end the half up 1-0.
Unsurprisingly, the second half was much more open to start, and to Arsenal’s benefit. At about 10 minutes in, the Gunners scored an absolute beauty of a goal. Mesut Özil made a quick pass to Alexis Sanchez and then took off on a run into the penalty box, and Alexis threaded a pass through four or five Stoke players right to Özil in the box, who finished the play off perfectly by shooting the ball into the goal to bring Arsenal up 2-0.
Stoke, however, did not go quietly after that, with a slew of corner kicks in quick succession, and Alexis fell to the ground clutching his thigh and grimacing in a scary moment. Then, in the 67th minute our old nemesis Peter Crouch scored for Stoke on what looked an awful lot like a handball.
At that point the match was wide open and, were I not a perpetually pessimistic Arsenal fan, I’d have said it was rather exciting. But Alexis, who looked like he was struggling to walk after his thigh injury, somehow managed to score for the Gunners in the 76th minute to bring Arsenal back up by two goals, right before getting subbed off for Aaron Ramsey.
Finally, just a few minutes later, Özil played a beautiful ball to Ramsey in the penalty box, and Ramsey managed to cross it to Giroud to make the score 4-1 Arsenal and more or less put the match away.
This win leaves Arsenal just one point behind Liverpool for fourth place, and tied with Jürgen Klopp’s squad on goal differential. Next up, a home match on Tuesday against Sunderland.
Oh, and Arsenal now has 69 points. Nice.