LONDON – When Alexis SÃ¡nchez blasted goalwards and the Stoke City defensive wall crumbled, this one-sided Arsenal victory was summed up in a heartbeat. SÃ¡nchez watched his free-kick deflect and the goalkeeper, Asmir Begovic, fumble it into the net, off a post, to give the Chile forward his second goal of the afternoon.
It was the latest illustration of SÃ¡nchezâ€™s ability to make the difference â€“ he was the star turn yet again and the well of superlatives has long since run dry â€“ but it also showed how weak Stokeâ€™s resistance was. They brought a physical approach to the first half, in particular, but they were unable to stymie Arsenal, who enjoyed a measure of revenge for the 3-2 defeat at the Britannia Stadium last month.
SÃ¡nchez has 18 goals in his debut season in English football and there was able support for him from the excellent Santi Cazorla. There was also the tonic for ArsÃ¨ne Wenger of seeing the return of Mesut Ã–zil as a 73rd-minute substitute while Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini were back on the bench after less serious injuries. At last the clubâ€™s treatment room seems to be clearing, although Mathieu Debuchy was readmitted after he dislocated a shoulder in hitting advertising hoardings.
A prominent talking point was Wengerâ€™s decision to drop Wojciech Szczesny after the goalkeeperâ€™s nightmare performance in the previous league game, the 2-0 defeat at Southampton. Szczesny was fined for smoking in the dressing-room afterwards but Wenger said that the indiscretion had played no part in the selection process.
Szczesny was furious, particularly as it is understood that he had arrived for the game expecting to start, and Wenger was weirdly evasive when he was asked to explain the decision, which brought a Premier League debut for David Ospina. â€œLook, I donâ€™t want to talk too much about that because the more I talk, the less I inform you,â€ Wenger said. On how Szczesny had taken the news, Wenger said: â€œHow can you take a decision? You know how you can take a decision.â€ Szczesny stewed beneath a hooded top on the bench.
Stoke failed to extend Ospina. In fact, they failed to do very much at all and the manager Mark Hughesâ€™s only complaints concerned the sluggishness of his players and how they had allowed Arsenal to be so comfortable. The final insult for the travelling fans came in the form of rail problems back up north. Hughes and his squad had arrived by train; they headed home by bus.
Arsenal were slick and pacey from the first whistle and they led when Stoke failed to clear a SÃ¡nchez corner. He crossed again for Laurent Koscielny, whose run had gone untracked, and the defender headed past Begovic.
Arsenal might have had more in a spiky first half, which finished with the officials being booed off. The home crowd raged whenever Stokeâ€™s players threw themselves into challenges, with Ryan Shawcrossâ€™s every touch being jeered. Forgiveness for that challenge on Ramsey in 2010 will never be granted here.
Shawcross clashed with Olivier Giroud and he cleaned out SÃ¡nchez with a hard but fair tackle. Peter Crouch caught Nacho Monreal with a stray arm and he kicked Per Mertesacker but it was the 11th-minute flashpoint involving Marko Arnautovic that had the repercussions.
Arnautovic pushed Debuchy as the Arsenal defender sought to shepherd a ball over the line and Debuchy banged into the hoardings. The Frenchman was carried off following lengthy treatment. Wenger said a timescale for his absence would have to be determined by a specialist. Hughes insisted there had been no malice from Arnautovic.
SÃ¡nchez and Tomas Rosicky had drawn smart saves out of Begovic before Koscielnyâ€™s goal and Giroud was thwarted by the goalkeeper on 21 minutes, moments after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had shot narrowly wide. SÃ¡nchez then scored his first goal after Steven Nzonzi had been guilty of a heavy touch. SÃ¡nchez nipped in to rob him, evading Nzonziâ€™s subsequent lunge and swapping passes with Rosicky. The finish was low inside Begovicâ€™s near post.
Glenn Whelan had blown Stokeâ€™s big chance on 27 minutes after Bojan Krkic cut back a free-kick and Hughes was spoilt for choice when assessing whom to withdraw at half-time. He took off Erik Pieters and Nzonzi but it could have been anyone.
SÃ¡nchez killed the game when he scored with his free-kick through the wall and Arsenal were close to more through Cazorla, the substitute Theo Walcott and Ã–zil. Stoke have lost on all seven of their visits to the Emirates Stadium. This one was never in doubt.
Man of the match Alexis SÃ¡nchez (Arsenal) – The Guardian