Football was the winner at the Emirates today as a ruthless Arsenal forward line dispatched Stoke with a comfortable 3-1 victory.
Last season saw a Gunners side prone to sloppiness and indecisiveness, and the horrors of this 9 month period seemed set to infiltrate the Emirates again with a poor start to the game. Spanish central defender Muniesa found his thumping volley saved by the fingertips of Petr Cech, a warning sign to the Arsenal rearguard of the wholesome threat the Potters have. Alexis appeared to be the only one at the races in the opening exchanges, with his inexorable pressing forcing a mistake from Stoke goalkeeper Grant, unfortunately for the Chilean the ball ricocheted off his leg and out for a goal-kick.
Xhaka’s Swiss teammate Xherdan Shaqiri may have felt he should have given the away side the lead when, following a poor through-ball from Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Potters swiftly countered, and had the powerhouse winger been more decisive, he may have rifled home past the Gunners goalkeeper. It was Stoke who continued to have the better of the chances with Wales international Joe Allen firing wide from 12 yards following a superb run from Marco Arnoutovic.
An all too familiar site followed the spurned chance, an injury. Shkodran Mustafi was forced to depart the Emirates turf following a hamstring injury, with Hector Bellerin taking his place and Gabriel moving to a more familiar centre back role. As seems to have been a trend in recent seasons, running into an Arsenal player wins you a penalty, Xhaka being the latest victim of this trend. Petr Cech’s attempts to save Charlie Adam’s penalty were futile, a worryingly common occurrence, with the veteran goalkeeper yet to save a penalty in a Gunner’s shirt.
A period of mediocrity proceeded the goal, with Stoke goalkeeper Grant doing his best to anger the Arsenal faithful with persistent time-wasting. The Englishman clearly hadn’t learnt from Fraser Forster’s Emirates antics earlier on in the season, the Gunners will break you down, and courtesy of a beautiful team goal Arsenal levelled on the 41st minute. Alexis found first half substitute Hector Bellerin with a luxurious through ball, and the Spaniard consequently found Theo Walcott with a driven cross, with the Englishman applying the finish. Half time saw the Gunners leave the turf level pegging with the Potters.
As the second half began, the front four decided they’d seen enough of Stoke’s defensive resilience and turned on the class, and did so in style. On the 50th minute Oxlade-Chamberlain floated a delightful ball over the top of the away teams rearguard, and Ozil produced the rest, seamless running onto the delivery, the German international headed deftly over the stranded Lee Grant and into the back of the net. In his new role this season, the 28 year old is flourishing. A mention must be reserved for the Ox who is certainly grabbing the chances he is being given by the scruff of the neck, producing a majestic performance in the 68 minutes he spent on the field.
The dynamic winger’s replacement was Alex Iwobi, who himself has found a new lease of life following his first goal of the season in Switzerland on Tuesday. Acting as a outlet, the Nigerian international oozed class in his cameo. In the midst of the class was a Peter Crouch header that should have been converted. A mere 10 seconds between his introduction and the chance, the Arsenal rearguard surely must have felt relieved that their sloppiness was not punished thanks to a smart Petr Cech save.
Stoke lived to rue such a miss, with Iwobi receiving the ball on the left, playing in Alexis, courtesy of a foul on the Chilean having the ball arrive back in his path, and dispatching clinically into the right corner of the goal. An area of his game the 20 year old openly admits he needs to improve, a finish reminiscent of one Thierry Henry will certainly give him a platform to improve upon.
The remaining period of the game dragged along, with the Gunners in no desperate need to add to their goal tally, sitting top of the table with their current goal difference. The only spark in the last 15 being provided by a mesmerising Walcott run which resulted in a smart save being made by Grant, the busier of the two keepers on the day. The full time whistle signalled the Gunners being top of the pile following the 3 o’ clock kick offs, and a signal of intent was also delivered.
The Gunners can take hits and keep moving forward.
Player Ratings: Cech (6), Gabriel (7), Mustafi (N/A), Koscielny (7), Monreal (6.5), Coquelin (7), Xhaka (7.5), Walcott (7.5), Ozil (8), Oxlade-Chamberlain (8), Alexis (8). Substitutes: Bellerin (7.5), Iwobi (8), Giroud (6.5)