Sobhi powerless to prevent Arsenal running rampant at Stoke
This fixture marked the first game for Stoke City since they secured their survival in the Premier League. Manager Mark Hughes was unbeaten in his last eight home league meetings with Arsene Wenger. Despite this, Stoke were on a poor run in the league, having only won one out of their last nine matches.
Arsenal had higher ambitions; their quest for fourth place in the league being given a recent boost with four wins from their previous five matches. The Gunners began the game on 66 points, four points behind fourth-placed Liverpool, albeit with a game in hand. With the end of the season on the horizon, victory was a must for Arsenal.
Arsenal began the match in typical fashion, dominating possession and preventing Stoke from growing into the fixture. They had the better of the early chances, with Shkodran Mustafi sending in a brilliant long ball for Alexis Sanchez who did well to control it with his chest before goalkeeper Jack Butland blocked the effort. Butland was tested soon by a Mustafi headed effort from a Mesut Ozil corner.
The Potters began to make some progress into the match after surviving the early efforts from the visitors. Marko Arnautovic and Erik Pieters linked up well, resulting in a decent cross into the box. There were half-hearted calls for handball, but these were rightly dismissed. Arsenal then threatened again, with Hector Bellerin whipping in a wonderful cross and Nacho Monreal heading strongly against the woodwork.
The chances began to come more freely for both sides as the game wore on. Monreal continued to threaten, setting up Sanchez to force a simple save from Butland. Xherdan Shaqiri then drew a free kick from Monreal, which Marko Arnautovic sent over the opposition goal.
The breakthrough for the North London side came through on 41 minutes, with Olivier Giroud finishing a simple close range effort after brilliant work by Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin. The goal marked Giroud’s 11th goal of the season and, more surprisingly, the first time Arsenal have opened the scoring in a Premier League game at Stoke.
The second half began in a much more physical manner, with challenges finding their mark from both sides. It was Arsenal however who made the early pressure count. Ozil doubled the Gunners’ lead with a composed finish after some nice link-up play between himself and Sanchez.
Stoke responded well, and should have halved the deficit immediately. Marko Arnautovic lost the attention of his marker on the left wing and sent in a wonderful cross, only for Mame Biram Diouf to head wide two yards away from goal. The incredible miss was Diouf’s last contribution to the match as he was replaced by Peter Crouch on 61 minutes. Joe Allen was also removed from play in favour of Saido Berahino.
City continued with their bombardment of the Arsenal defence, several corners causing great concern and not being well dealt with. One such corner was strongly headed by Bruno Martins Indi, forcing a quick save from Petr Cech.
The Potters finally managed to grab a goal back on 66 minutes. Marko Arnautovic crossed into the Arsenal box and Peter Crouch rose highest to head past Cech. There was an indication that Crouch may have used his hand to score the goal, but the goal was allowed to stand.
Arsenal responded strongly to conceding and on 75 minutes restored their two-goal advantage. Alexis Sanchez showed great agility and guile to dance through the Stoke defence to finish well after great work by Hector Bellerin. The goal marked his 50th Premier League goal for Arsenal. He was replaced by Aaron Ramsey soon after.
The victory was sealed on 78 minutes as Aaron Ramsey showed great strength to get away from Glen Johnson to set up Olivier Giroud, who slid in to finish from close range and double his own tally for the game. Stoke responded by taking off injured Marko Arnautovic and replacing him with Ramadan Sobhi. Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil were replaced by Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott for Arsenal. There was little time for the subtitutes to have any real impact, and Arsenal came away 4-1 victors.
Arsenal’s crucial victory here meant that they were only one point behind Liverpool, who occupied the final Champions League position. The Gunners’ next fixture comes on Tuesday at home to relegated Sunderland.
Stoke City are already safe, but will by vying to finish as high in the league as they possibly can. Their next match, and final fixture of their season is away to Southampton on Sunday.
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