Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis, Walcott
Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Giroud.
Arsenal missed a host of chances but emerged 2-0 winners over Stoke, taking their first three points at the Emirates this afternoon.
After the Interlull, Arsene Wenger began with Theo Walcott up front, meaning Olivier Giroud stared a second successive game on the bench. Gabriel remained in the team with Per Mertesacker still absent, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s in and out season continued as he missed out having started at Newcastle.
After missing some good chances at St James Park, Walcott needed to show his stuff today, but in the 4th minute he missed another sitter. A Cazorla cross saw Alexis head against the post, the ball rebounded the England international inside the 6-yard box, but somehow he shanked his shot wide.
A minute later an Alexis free kick, on target, was pushed away by Jack Butland, before the Chilean saw a shot crack back off the post after he fizzed one in from just outside the box. Arsenal were putting Stoke under huge pressure, and when Hector Bellerin’s cross from the right found Walcott just yards out, there was disbelief when the number 14 headed over the bar – it was easier to score.
After such an intense opening the game settled down a bit, Petr Cech showing his experience to punch away well from a Stoke free kick, before Laurent Koscielny was next to test the Stoke keeper with a cracking shot from 30 yards which was touched out for a corner. Santi Cazorla then saw a left footed effort saved by Butland from the resulting set-piece.
With the Gunners on top and dominating the game, when the deadlock was broken it came from Arsenal robbing Stoke in their own half. Coquelin won the ball with a great tackle, Ozil played a delicious ball over the top, Walcott took a nice touch, took it on and rolled it home to score the first home goal of the season and make it 1-0.
Cech made a decent stop from Joselu as the visitors looked to respond, while at the other end there was promise, but no end product, from Arsene Wenger’s men. The Gunners took the one goal lead into the break.
There were no changes from either manager as the second period began, but it followed a similar pattern to the first with lots of Arsenal possession and pressure. Ozil created a good chance for Ramsey to shoot or provide inside the box, but he fell backwards when taking a shot and blasted it into the crowd.
At the other end Cech saved from Shaqiri before typical pressure from Alexis almost fashioned a chance for Walcott. The introduction of Stephen Ireland seemed to spark some life into Stoke, with Bellerin twice having to block from Shaqiri, and the game began to get a bit tense.
Walcott again missed a good chance, his effort from a Bellerin cross was tame and straight at the keeper, before Butland made yet another good save, denying Ozil at his near post after the German had been set up by Cazorla.
Despite being Arsenal’s goalscorer, Walcott continued to be wasteful, fluffing a great chance to double the lead when he was put through one on one, but again there was no conviction in his finish and the Stoke keeper saved easily.
An off the ball incident involving Gabriel and Arnautovic had the Stoke players fuming, but they’d do well to remember their man was the coward who injured Debuchy with a sly off the ball push last season.
Arsene Wenger made his first change in the 75th minute taking off Walcott and replacing him with Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman’s first involvement saw the ball break to him in the box with just the keeper to beat, but he dragged his shot wide – following up on his midweek misses for France.
That was followed up by a great run from Cazorla, but the Spaniard’s fizzing shot went just wide of the post. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta came on to replace Alexis and Ozil in the 84th minute, and 60 seconds later the Gunners were two goals up.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was fouled out wide, Cazorla clipped the free kick into the box, and Giroud attacked it at the near post to nod home for his second of the campaign, and to make it 2-0 to the Gunners. It was almost three shortly afterwards when Butland saved brilliantly from a Koscielny header, before Giroud was denied a penalty when his shirt was obviously being tugged trying to get on the end of a Bellerin cross.
In the end a good performance brought about three points. We were wasteful, and should have scored more, but it’s just what we needed before midweek European action.