By Josh James at Emirates Stadium
Three well-taken goals took us to the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
We had to come from behind though, after Stoke opened the scoring from a debatable penalty. Midway through the first half, and shortly after we'd lost Shkodran Mustafi to injury, Granit Xhaka was deemed to have brought down Joe Allen in the box. Charlie Adam duly rolled home from 12 yards. We responded superbly, crucially scoring the equaliser before the break. Theo Walcott arrived at the near post to turn in Hector Bellerin's cross. It was the England man's 50th goal at Emirates Stadium. Mesut Ozil's looping header put us ahead early in the second half and Alex Iwobi came off the bench to make it three and wrap up the points. The win also ensures we will complete the calendar year without losing on a Saturday, and takes our unbeaten run in the league to 14 games.
Setting the Scene
Stoke at home has tended to be a very different fixture to the spicy and testing encounters that the Britannia Stadium has witnessed between the two sides over recent years. Coming into this game our record at Emirates Stadium against the Potters has been perfect – eight wins from eight meetings, with 19 goals scored and just three conceded - and there was a big incentive to keep that run going.
Victory today, by two or more goals, would take us top of the table, capping a fantastic week. But Stoke have hit form of their own lately – they have lost just one of their last nine, and hadn’t conceded more than once in any of those matches. Arsène Wenger reverted to the starting XI that beat West Ham last weekend - making six changes from Tuesday's win in Switzerland. It meant Gabriel continued at right back, but Bellerin was fit enough to take his place among the substitutes after missing six games through injury.
Today marked our annual charity matchday, with all of the players donating a day's wages to The Arsenal Foundation, but the first charity on the pitch was shown by Stoke's captain Adam. His attempted back pass was well short, allowing Alexis Sanchez to dart in and take possession. He raced towards goal but dragged his shot wide from a narrow angle. The visitors themselves had a couple of early chances in an end-to-end start. Marc Muniesa hit a dipping volley from 25 yards which Petr Cech just tipped over, and Xerdan Shaqiri was crowded out after a promising counter attack. It was a lively start all round, and we were playing with the confidence befitting a team with nine goals in the last two games. Walcott was next to try his luck, he got behind the Stoke defence but his low drive was well saved by Lee Grant. Just after Joe Allen shot wide from a Marko Arnautovic cutback, the boss had some reshuffling to do, as Shkodran Mustafi hobbled off with a hamstring injury. Bellerin came on at full back and Gabriel moved along to partner Laurent Koscielny. Moments later we fell behind, and in controversial fashion. Allen and Xhaka and tangled in the box, and despite vociferous protests, referee Lee Mason pointed to the spot. It looked purely accidental from Xhaka, but Adam accepted the gift and stroked home from 12 yards. We came back well after conceding, putting Stoke under pressure at the back, and only a well-timed intervention from Bruno Martins Indi prevented Mesut Ozil equalising. The visiting defence could do nothing to stop the equaliser just before half-time though. Alexis Sanchez carved open the opposition with a tremendous throughball to the advancing Bellerin, and the young Spaniard picked out Walcott at the near post to turn the ball home. Alexis and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both flashed shots over the bar, as we ended the half on the front foot.
We picked up where we left off after the break, and soon had our reward.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, from ten yards inside the Stoke half, floated a superb lofted pass to the advancing Ozil. The German found himself alone in the box and guided his header over the stranded Grant. It was his ninth of the season, surpassing his tally for the whole of the last campaign. Xhaka and Oxlade-Chamberlain both tried speculative shots from the edge of the area as we kept the intensity high.
Stoke introduced Peter Crouch and, with his very first touch, he nearly drew the visitors level. His towering header at the far post was clawed away by Cech. But it was our own second-half sub - Iwobi - who sealed the points.
Alexis was brought down just outside the area, thankfully the referee played advantage though, as the ball rolled nicely for Iwobi to take it on and slot past the keeper. Olivier Giroud was the next to be introduced - for his 200th Arsenal appearance - and we saw out the game in comfortable fashion, to reach the top of the league.
Referee: Lee Mason
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