Arsenal beat bogey team Stoke – but is it too little too late?
Arsenal secure victory with help of two Olivier Giroud goals
13 May, 2017 — By Richard Osley
STOKE CITY 1, ARSENAL 4
TYPICAL Arsenal. When the pressure was on to keep up with the pace at the top of the league in March, the Gunners could hardly string a forward pass together: they folded badly at Liverpool and West Brom, and to make matters worse they were thumped twice in their extracurricular European adventure by Bayern Munich. All was lost in a mad month.
And yet now ,with the wild hope of this being a championship season long gone and the prospect of that yearly mini-triumph of finishing above Spurs lost too, the Gunners have suddenly returned to their free-wheeling ways, stroking the ball around like exhibitionists, and most strikingly, winning matches. Since losing to Tottenham a fortnight ago, they’ve won three in a row. One against their old foes Manchester United and a further at grounds where they sometimes feel cursed by bad results: Southampton, and this afternoon Stoke, a venue that Arsene Wenger has only triumphed in the league at once before today.
Suddenly Arsenal are trying to shoplift a place in the top four in the last week of the season. Wenger must be wishing the season had another fortnight to play as they hustle away at Manchester City and Liverpool. Their play at the Bet365 Stadium seemed more thoughtful, more relaxed than during the more straining moments during this stormy season. A key breakthrough came shortly before half-time when Hector Bellerin’s chase and cross handed Oliver Giroud a simple tap-in.
The best goal of the match was the next, a touch of class on 55 minutes. The long distance one-two between Alexis Sanches and Mesut Ozil was read by the Stoke defence but was so inch perfect that it sliced the home team’s rearguard open anyway before Ozil tucked it past Jack Butland with a kind of training ground nonchalance. Stoke switched things around and began revoking memories of their scrap-hardened style utilised by some of current manager Mark Hughes’ predecessors.
Arsenal were upset by some raw tackles and unnecessary spats and during a hectic spell of to and fro, Peter Crouch pulled one back with 25 minutes to play. When you wound back the replays you could see he had used his hand to steer the ball past Petr Cech – and not his head. None of the officials spotted what had happened and Crouch wheeled away, styling it out in the celebrations, as if no crime had occurred. If it worked for Maradona….
By this stage, Sanchez was hobbling, wincing, holding the top of his leg as the result of one clatter too many. He made the revolving arms gesture which usually denotes an appeal to be substituted, only for a couple of minutes later to pick up the ball, drive into the box and fire a shot past Butland, with the help of a bobbling deflection off Ryan Shawcross.
Sanchez was withdrawn a few moments later.
Arsenal went looking for more and scoring a fourth means they are now equal Liverpool on goal difference, the problem instead being that Jurgen Klopp’s team have a single point advantage on the higher side of the Champions League qualification line. Giroud got the cake-icer, again with the goal open after good work down the Arsenal right by the improving Aaron Ramsey.
The chase goes on then, albeit it with Sanchez now potentially sidelined. You wonder whether the rate of games and the intensity of which Arsenal are having to play them may be a contributing factor to any more team injuries. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was crocked at Southampton after a run of games in which he was asked to charge up and down the left flank for 90 minutes in a way he hasn’t done before. The puff Arsenal are putting into this late surge in the league may also have consequences for their FA Cup final with Chelsea, who are already crowned as champions and able to play their star players lightly over the next week. Surely they will reach Wembley more refreshed.
“We were efficient up front and defensively were compact and defended well from the front,” said Wenger after the final whistle today. “The most difficult thing against a team like Stoke is scoring the first goal and after that we had to be efficient.”
ARSENAL: Cech – Holding, Mustafi, Koscielny – Bellerin, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Ozil (Welbeck 83) – Sanchez (Ramsey 77), Giroud (Walcott 84)
SUBS NOT USED: Elneny, Ospina, Gabriel, Iwobi