STOKE CITY succumbed to their heaviest defeat of the campaign at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon as Arsenal avenged their 3-2 reverse in the Potteries with a comfortable victory in North London.
The Potters came into the clash in good spirits having recorded seven points from their last three Premier League fixtures as well as having secured a passage through to the last 32 of the FA Cup seven days earlier.
The triumph Mark Hughes’ side recorded at the Britannia Stadium against the Gunners last month provided belief the side could emulate that and claim their first ever league points at Arsenal’s state of the art home, however those hopes were extinguished before the half-time interval.
Almost identically to the reverse fixture in North Staffordshire the home side found themselves in the early ascendancy as Laurent Koscielny lost his marker and headed the ball beyond Asmir Begovic after just six minutes.
That lead could have been doubled had the Bosnian stopper not denied both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez with superb saves down to his right, as Arsene Wenger’s side looked to turn the screw and establish a comfortable advantage.
Peter Crouch did have the ball in the net during a rare surge forward, but the linesman correctly chalked the goal off after Marko Arnautovic had inadvertently ran the ball beyond the touchline during the passage of play.
Soon after it was 2-0. The rapid Chilean international Sanchez, who arrived in the capital from Barcelona in the summer for £32 million, used his pace and tenacity to lethal effect, twisting and turning inside the box and launching a sublime effort into the back of the net.
Philipp Wollscheid, making his debut in the most difficult of encounters, looked calm and confident on the ball, and looked equally as adept defending, making a series of well-timed interventions to keep the scoreline down to two.
Hughes made two changes during the break as he looked to rejuvenate his troops – introducing Spanish defender Marc Muniesa and former Arsenal man Steve Sidwell from the substitutes’ bench at the expense of Erik Pieters and Steven Nzonzi.
Before the pair had time to settle into the encounter, it was effectively game, set and match when Alexis’ free-kick 25-yards out somehow found its way over the line after Begovic had fumbled the forward’s deflected effort onto the post before it bounced back at his hand and trickled home.
Wenger welcomed back both Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott from long-term injuries during the relatively non-eventful final 30 minutes of action, and both had half opportunities to add to the tally but neither managed to hit the target when well positioned.
The Potterts, to their credit, continued to battle and look for an unlikely avenue beyond the stubborn Gunners backline, and they thought they had nicked a consolation ten minutes from time when Geoff Cameron’s close range effort rolled home, only for the linesman to flag for offside.
Substitute Stephen Ireland forced ‘keeper David Ospina into a smart save in stoppage time when he looked set to follow up his goalscoring exploits from last weekend with another neat effort at the Emirates.
During the final exchanges Germany international Ozil had a chance to round off a routine victory, but sliced his strike horribly wide of goal, although the fans housed behind the target were quick to accept his light-hearted apology.