A goal in each half from widely criticised forwards Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud gave Arsenal all three points against Stoke on Saturday.
Mesut Özil was welcomed back into the first-team fray after a minor knee problem saw Wenger rest him for their trip to Tyneside. Per Mertesacker was a notable omission from the matchday squad, still absent through a chest infection, meaning that Gabriel was rewarded with another start after impressing in the previous two fixtures.
Naturally, they started proceedings on the front-foot, and should have been two or three goals ahead within ten minutes of the referee’s first whistle.
22-year-old goalkeeper Jack Butland was, unsurprisingly, Stoke’s best player. Butland has come into his ownwith a string of impressive displays recently, and continued to shine against tough opposition with his defensive team-mates looking out of place.
An abundance of crucial saves kept Arsenal’s attackers at bay for the majority of the match, and Butland’s ever-growing reputation continues to develop.
Alexis Sánchez was at the heart of things going forward for Arsenal, always looking to accelerate towards goal with the ball at his feet.
If it was not for the goalkeeping heroics of Butland, he could have easily had a first-half hat-trick. A close-range header was tipped onto the post, before a curling free-kick was thwarted.
Lastly, the best of the lot. Having weaved his way into the box from the left flank, Alexis cut inside and shot low towards the corner. The Chilean almost got his reward but to the ball cannoned back off the post as Stoke were saved once again.
Özil and Cazorla’s passing play from midfield was a joy to watch, as they looked to orchestrate attacks out of nothing. That’s just how the opening goal was scored, with Arsenal launching an attack moments after Stoke attempted to get forward.
A perfectly-timed sliding tackle from Francis Coquelin saw possession change hands, and Özil spotted the run of Walcott behind Marc Muniesa. The German clipped the ball beautifully for Theo and, after a good first touch with Butland rushing out, he did well to slot the ball beneath the goalkeeper into the corner.
Özil was given the match’s first booking shortly after his excellent assist, albeit harshly for a tug-back on Erik Pieters. The Gunners continued to dominate as half-time approached but still couldn’t add to their one-goal advantage.
After the break Arsenal searched for the second goal, to give them some breathing space. Mark Hughes responde, by replacing Joselu with Stephen Ireland to add some bite in midfield as well as trying to improve the quality of their passing, which was poor up until that point.
Despite only scoring once, Walcott was proving a struggle to deal with for the Stoke backline. The Englishman missed great chances in both halves but his pace, probing runs forward and attacking positioning provided a headache for the Potters who, for all the Arsenal pressure, were still in the game.
Shaqiri was Stoke’s main attacking outlet and his flashes of skill and quick feet were asking a few questions of the Arsenal backline. Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny were firm at the back to deal with the threats posed by the Swiss international and Mame Biram Diouf.
Penalty shouts were waved away by referee Jon Moss as Diouf went down inside the box under the challenge of Gabriel, before the game began to open up.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta came on with eight minutes to play, as Stoke searched for a late equaliser. There was another goal, but it was scored by the home side.
Butland had made ten saves during the game, but had no response for Giroud’s header from close range as Santi Cazorla’s curling set-piece gifted the substitute with a chance to score.
Even though he squandered an earlier effort, prompting groans from supporters behind the goal, he made no mistake with his second opportunity and guided his effort into the corner.
The full-time whistle blew and Arsenal completed a second win in a row ahead of a big month.
With four away matches in the space of ten days, including Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League curtain-raiser before taking on José Mourinho’s Chelsea side, it will be far from easy.