Though it wasn’t as straightforward a victory as we would have liked, there was still sweet satisfaction in brushing aside Stoke at the Emirates on Saturday to keep ourselves well and truly in the mix at the top of the Premier League table.
Getting results at home has proven somewhat more difficult these last few season than it once was and there was signs of that sort of stuttering, incoherent type of performance from the outset against the Potters.
It’s difficult to put a finger on quite why we have found hitting top gear so difficult at home but, despite enjoying the better of the opening exchanges, it was Stoke who drew first blood when they were awarded a penalty midway through the half.
Personally, I don’t have too many complaints about the decision. Of course, it wasn’t an intentional elbow that struck Joe Allen’s face, but strike his face it did and it’s difficult to argue that, anywhere else on the pitch, that wouldn’t be given as a foul.
As soon as that industrial goblin of a footballer, Charlie Adam, stepped up, I knew there wasn’t much hope of Petr Cech making the save. The man is a pantomime villain and as a horrible knack of upsetting me. He didn’t miss a chance to do so again today.
The game changed when Shkodran Mustafi was forced to leave the pitch with a suspected hamstring injury and was replaced by the returning Hector Bellerin, with Gabriel moved into the centre of defence.
The Brazilian has done an excellent job out of position on the right but his limitations in attack mean we can’t be as effective as we would like on that side of the pitch, and it was never going to be a long-term option for him to remain there.
The return of Bellerin brought some much-needed pace and positional threat to the right side of our attack and the change quickly paid dividends, with the Spaniard laying on the cross for Theo Walcott to score his 100th career goal.
Of late, Arsenal have left their best football for the second half and so it proved again today as, buoyed by their equaliser, the Gunners quickly moved into the lead after the break, with Mesut Ozil finding oceans of space behind the Stoke defence.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain guided the ball onto his bonce and a superb header made it 2-1.
Stoke were spectators for much of the following 20 minutes or so, as Arsenal cut through them with regularity, and manager Mark Hughes was forced to revert to type by throwing Peter Crouch into the fray.
The intention was obvious – it was to be an aerial bombardment and it came within a whisker of paying off as the 6ft 7 lumbering striker climbed highest to get on the end of a deep free-kick. Thankfully, a smart save from Cech spared the blushes of our defence. Quite how Crouch beat three defenders in the air I don’t know, but we got away with it on this occasion.
When Oxlade Chamberlain was switched for Alex Iwobi, I found myself a little perplexed, but it turned out to be a masterful move from Arsene Wenger as the Nigerian added a third goal late on, more or less sealing the win.
Reasons to be cheerful
The return of Hector Bellerin proved an attacking boon for the Gunners. We have missed his threat going forward, as well as his pace, and we looked a different beast with him in the side. It was a very good day for him, and a little indicator of just why we agreed to boost his wages by quite so much.Hopefully, he won’t have suffered any ill effects from his exploits today and can slot back into the side with ease in the coming weeks.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain continues to grow in confidence and it was great to see him so disappointed at being substituted in the second half. There is strong competition for places in the side and his desire to perform, to improve, and to be the main man in midfield is encouraging. Hopefully he and Alex Iwobi will push eachother every step of the way, and that’s not to mention Lucas Perez, who is working hard to find a place in the team for himself.
Finally, it was great to see a decent performance at home, where we have struggled for a while now. It’s clear we are still not as good at the Emirates as we are on the road but, if we keep doing the basics well, the results should start to take care of themselves and, who knows, it might even spur the crowd on to create the sort of atmosphere we all want to see at the club.