Arsenal breezed past Stoke at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon in the Premier League.
Looking to make a point after the humiliation suffered at the Britannia just five weeks ago, Arsenal were up for this game from the start.
Arsene Wenger welcomed a number of his first-team stars back to the bench – Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini all returning from injury while in goal he stuck with David Ospina, handing the Colombian his first Premier League start. Wojciech Szcesny was dropped to the bench for form reasons, not because he was caught having a not-so-sneaky fag in the toilets at St. Mary’s no matter what else you read.
Kieran Gibbs dropped out of the squad, presumably with an injury while Theo Walcott was back on the incredibly strong Arsenal bench, the returning players belying the ‘Arsenal lack depth’ claims that are often made. Apart from in defence, they don’t lack depth. They do, however, frequently lack fit players.
Laurent Koscielny was instrumental in Arsenal’s opening goal, and not just because he rose to head home Arsenal’s eighth headed goal of the season (second highest in the league, top West Ham with 12). He won the ball back after Stoke attempted to clear a corner, laid it off to Alexis Sanchez and then spun into acres of space in the box for Alexis to plop the ball down right on his head.
It was his second of the season.
With only five-and-a-half minutes on the clock, it was exactly what Arsenal’s opening display deserved.
From there they didn’t let up.
A string of saves by Asmir Begovic kept it from getting embarrassing for Stoke while the referee, Jonathan Moss, did his best to ensure that the Stoke players would remain on the pitch by just allowing them to do as they pleased.
Seven minutes after Arsenal scored their first they suffered their first Stoke-related injury as Marko Arnautovic shoved Mathieu Debuchy long after the ball had gone out of the play. The resulting fall left the full-back with a dislocated shoulder which is likely to need surgery (resulting in a six-week layoff) and cut head from the advertising hoardings, the shoulder requiring lengthy treatment to stabilise it before he could be stretchered back to the dressing room.
The referee did nothing.
Nor did he do anything when Peter Crouch flailed an arm into Nacho Monreal that resulted in the Spaniard needing a couple of staples to a cut on his face. Crouch does that sort of thing all the time and because he’s so tall and ungainly gets away with it.
It’s funny how Per Mertesacker, who is the just one inch shorter than Crouch and equally as ungainly, manages to avoid smashing players in the face on a weekly basis.
That extra one inch is clearly responsible.
Not so big without their mates
Having lost all of their games against Arsenal in the Premier League at the Emirates, Stoke’s task looked huge against a fired-up Arsenal.
For all their bluster at the Britannia, Stoke are a pack of pussycats when it comes to playing at the Emirates. Like the drunken idiot on a Saturday night who needs his friends to egg him on, without their home support Stoke are nothing more than a kicky inconvenience.
Still, that sort of thing has never stopped Arsenal from messing up before so when Alexis grabbed his first of the game and Arsenal’s second, nerves settled in the crowd for the rest of the game.
What a goal it was too, a product of his own industry, tirelessness and ability to find the back of the net when others would surely miss, his finish from inside the box left the excellent Begovic grasping at air.
Two nil at the break, a scoreline that did nothing but flatter the visitors.
The second half started in the same vein as the first, Arsenal pressing high, hard and fast and even winning a corner on the counter-attack after clearing a Stoke corner in the first minute of the half.
Just two minutes later Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was fouled right on the edge of the box and up stepped Alexis.
Who would bet against him, even in a side like Arsenal that seems to coach free-kick taking ability out of players?
Aiming to go under the wall it took a little bit of a nick before Begovic seemed to have stopped it on the line. Clearly having a bet on Arsenal winning three-nil, the Stoke keeper then flicked the ball into the back of the net.
Possibly an own goal, but nobody should take it away from Sanchez.
That goal was his 18th of the season in all competitions.
The first yellow card finally came for a Stoke player in the 50th minute, but by that point they were a beaten team. Santi Cazorla almost made it four as he clipped the top of the ball after a lovely interchange with the Ox.
Watching Arsenal, 3-0 up with 20 minutes left fight as a team in the top half of the pitch was wonderful. They hassled and harried in all areas of the pitch and found teammates with a fluency and ease they have sorely lacked this season. Cazorla was superb once again, a player really surfing high on a wave of confidence while the Ox was also another standout.
The truth is, the whole team performed well.
Mesut Ozil made his return from a three month layoff, replacing Olivier Giroud with 18 minutes left. The German was cheered on to the pitch and his first couple of touches received a similar treatment. Sky Sports, on the other hand, were trying to tell us how the Arsenal fans aren’t convinced by Ozil.
Confirmation deafness in full swing.
There were more chances to give the scoreline the gloss it deserved but the fact that Ospina made his first save in the 89th minute told the story of the day.
Stoke were well beaten.
Stoke didn’t suffer a crisis, they didn’t collapse as Arsenal had done five weeks ago. They were simply outplayed and, yes, even outfought in many areas of the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
And that’s what we’ve been saying for a long time, isn’t it? Work like that for the full match and there are few sides who can beat this Arsenal team.
Not when they have a point to make or an apology to give, but every week no matter the opposition or competition.