Arsenal go top as they eclipse Stoke City 3-1 with goals from Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi as long unbeaten league run continues
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Arsenal went top of the table as they maintained their good form by beating Stoke City 3-1 at The Emirates this afternoon with goals from Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi, after Charlie Adam had earlier put the Potters 1-0 up with a first half penalty.
The visitors were no match for the Gunners after the Potters seemed to lose heart after Walcott’s equaliser on the stroke of half time – as Arsene Wenger’s men carried on their impressive run that now stretches to 14 league matches unbeaten.
Midfielder Francis Coquelin started after a one-game ban in the Champions League, but Santi Cazorla, Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck all remain on the club’s long term casualty list.
The Potters Ryan Shawcross missed out again with a calf injury, along with Geoff Cameron, but Marko Arnautovic is fit again despite receiving a knock against Burnley.
It was the club’s annual charity matchday where Wenger and the first team squad are donating a day’s wage to The Arsenal Foundation.
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But there wasn’t much charity between these two top level foes who have had some of the bitterest non-local rivalry since the advent of the Premier League
Mark Hughes team started the more lively with Marc Muniesa – who played for Barcelona at 17 – firing in a speculative dipping shot from 30 yards out that Cech did well to tip over with little more than 240 seconds gone.
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Stoke have added a splash of style to their undoubted steel under Welshman Hughes’ management, with Marko Arnautovic - the skilful 27-year-old Austrian who lost his way at Inter Milan during his loan spell there in 2010 – looking elegant and efficient in early forways.
But it’s a brave team that wanted to take on Arsenal at pure football.
And Wenger’s men soon hit back with livewire Alexis Sanchez charging down keeper Lee Grant’s clearance on nine minutes. It was his misfortune the ball narrowly fell the wrong side of the post.
Moments later Mustafi played in Theo Walcott whose low shot across Grant’s goal was another warning Arsenal were continuing their good form.
A number of Stoke fans disgraced themselves by singing ‘Aaron Ramsey walks with a limp’. Of course these idiots are outnumbered by decent Potters fans, and the ones singing the songs, if questioned, would put it down to ‘banter’ and nothing more.
But really, is taking joy from a human being having their leg broken part of football? For those misguided Stoke fans who sung the despicable ditty it evidently is – more to their shame.
Hector Bellerin made an early appearance as a 24th minute substitute for Mustafi with Gabriel slotting into the German’s centre half position, and the Spaniard filling his usual right back role.
Just before the hour mark Granit Xhaka clattered into Joe Allen, leaving referee Lee Mason no option but to award a penalty. Charlie Adam sent Petr Cech the wrong way to make it ‘1-0 to the rugby team’ as their fans put it.
It was a reckless challenge that also left Allen needing treatment on an eye injury. Despite the boos from the home support it was a clear penalty.
Any further ‘episodes’ will see Xhaka getting a reputation for being unruly and undisciplined. Which will be a shame as he has the makings of a good player.
With nine minutes to go to half time good work by Bellerin who was playing more like a wing back than a full back saw Sanchez lift the ball over Grant’s bar.
The goal that would finally silence the Stoke fans came from Theo Walcott on 42 minutes. Xhaka spun off Adam and fed the ball to Sanchez, who in turn played an exquisite ball that released Bellerin into space.
The impressive Spaniard – who will have a huge say in whether his team pick up silverware this season as he is so influential in both attack and defence – fired in a low cross that Walcott finished off to make it 1-1.
Just before halt time Alex Oxlade-Chamberlian could have scored after another Bellerin cross – but his shot was just too high to trouble Grant and Mason blew for half time shortly afterwards.
Arsenal made it 2-1 four minutes after the restart with a looping Mesul Ozil header, after he found himself in acres of space, unmarked in the box following a lofted Oxlade-Chamberlain header.
The 23-year-old capped 24 times by England then narrowly failed to add a third after he missed with a low angled header a minute later. Xhaka and Oxlade-Chamberlain then went close again as Arsenal began to stamp their class onto proceedings as the rain started to fall.
Peter Crouch came on for the ineffective Diouf and nearly scored with his first touch, a header that Cech showed good reflexes in beating away.
But it was an Arsenal substitute, Alex Iwobi on for Oxlade-Chamberlian, who made more of an impact as he strode into the box, opened up his body and slotted elegantly and efficiently past Grant to make it 3-1.
Quite simply Stoke, who appeared to lose heart after Walcott’s equaliser on the stroke of half time, were no match for the attacking verve and defensive solidity of Wenger’s men.
For Arsenal, who seem to be passing important tests with every passing week, the next seven days will explain more about their new-found steel with challenging trips to Everton and Manchester City – but for tonight Gunners supporters can enjoy looking at the league table after beating Stoke and sending their fans back to the Potteries empty-handed.
Cech, Gabriel, Koscielny, Sanchez (Giroud, 77), Ozil, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Iwobi, 68), Monreal, Mustafi (Bellerin, 24), Xhaka, Coquelin
Grant, Pieters, Allen, Muniesa, Johnson, Arnautovic, Martins Indi, Adam (Sobhi, 71) Diouf (Crouch, 72), Imbula, Shaqiri