Despite a poor first half that saw the Potters dominate most of the opening half and Xherdan Shaqiri hitting the post from a corner in the second half, the Gunners were able to keep up their fine form against Stoke at home.
The introduction of Alexandre Lacazette in the 61st minute changed the game completely, as the Frenchman’s pace and attacking awareness made it possible for Arsenal to attack efficiently.
However, it was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that opened the scoring for the Gunners as Mesut Ozil was brought down in the penalty area 75 minutes in. The winter signing from Borussia Dortmund stepped up to the spot, and converted past Jack Butland to make it 1-0.
Aubameyang made it two 11 minutes later, when a corner kick flew straight into the path of the Gabonese striker in the box, and a well-hit first time volley from the club record signing doubled Arsenal’s advantage.
Lacazette sealed the game with a minute of normal time to go when the Frenchman was also brought down in the penalty area and was drawn a penalty. The former Lyon striker stepped up to the ball, and also converted past Butland to cap off an impressive return to the Arsenal team after missing six weeks of action through injury.
A cold Sunday afternoon in London
Relegation threatened Stoke were the side to start the brightest in the early Easter Sunday fixtures. Arsenal’s typical lack of early lacklustre football made it easy for the visiting side to dominate in the opening 10 minutes.
Shaqiri was constantly biting at the Gunners’ heel, and was always a present threat in the final third of the pitch. Had it not been for some poor passes into the Swiss attacker and some good positioning from Calum Chambers, the former Bayern Munich winger could well had opened the scoring early on for the Potters.
After a continuous play of sloppy passes, both sides failing to make a chance, and Stoke fans still booing Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal had the first big chance of the game 23 minutes in when the aforementioned Ramsey managed to find space in the penalty area after a quick break down, but the Welshman’s lofted effort from 12-yards out clipped onto the bar and out for a goal kick.
It only takes a moment to change the course of a game, and Ramsey’s chance did just that, as the number eight started to find his rhythm in the match and start to test the Stoke defenders. His link-up play with Jack Wilshere made it easier for Arsenal to exploit their visitors, but where the Gunners were taking their chances was a problem, and this allowed Paul Lambert’s side to get back into the game, but still neither side were able to test each other going into halftime.
A boring encounter
The second half saw little improvement on the quality of football that was on show in the second half. Whilst Arsenal remained to be the dominate side, there chances still did little to get the home fans excited and off their feat.
Danny Welbeck, who had been invisible for most of the first half, could had opened the scoring 12 minutes into the second half when the ball fell perfectly to the English international in the penalty area, but his first-time volley flew well wide of Butland’s goal.
It would be Welbeck’s last involvement of the day as the forward was replaced by returning striker Lacazette, who has been missing from the Arsenal squad for the past six weeks due to injury, producing the biggest cheer of the game when the Frenchman stepped onto the pitch.
The game heats up
The game started to pick up some steam once Lacazette was introduced, but it was Stoke that came closest to scoring after the Frenchman was brought on when Shaqiri’s corner flew over everyone’s head and smacked off the inside of the far post, giving Arsenal players and fans a shock.
Arsenal responded instantly, though, as Aubameyang was played through on goal, however the former Borussia Dortmund striker’s chipped effort from close range was well blocked by Butland, and the ball rolled out of play.
Aubameyang finally opens the scoring
The introduction of Lacazette for Welbeck had allowed Arsenal to attack the Stoke defence at full pace and with plenty of fire power, and the switch to a 4-3-3 formation made it easier for the Gunners to break when attacking in the final third.
This lead to the Gunners being awarded a golden chance to open the scoring 75 minutes in when Mesut Ozil was brought down by Bruno Martins Indi inside the penalty area, resulting in the referee awarding the hosts a penalty.
Aubameyang was the one to take the vital spot kick, and the Gabon international coolly sent Butland the wrong way to give Arsenal the lead with 15 minutes to go.
Arsenal could have had a second goal 10 minutes later when Lacazette set through substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the penalty area, but his close range shot was brilliantly saved by the foot of Butland. The Stoke keeper had react moments later, though, as Ozil’s striked the rebound well but the English international punched the ball behind for a corner.
Arsenal seal the game
However, straight from the corner Butland was beaten by Aubameyang once again. The Stoke defenders failed to mark the striker in the penalty area, and as the ball fell to him the former Dortmund attacker had a simple finish at the far post to double Arsenal’s lead.
Two became three in a matter of minutes, as Arsenal were awarded another penalty after Lacazette was brought down by Badou Ndiya in the box, once again drawing a spot kick.
Although he was on a hattrick, Aubameyang allowed Lacazette to take the penalty as he had won it. The former Lyon striker stepped up to the spot, and just like his new striker teammate, sent Butland the wrong way to make it 3-0 to the Gunners, and to make Stoke’s Premier League safety this season a real problem.