In the last meeting between Arsenal and Stoke City, Arsene Wenger’s men crashed and burned to a damaging defeat at the Britannia Stadium.
Thus the doors were opened for the usual critics ahead of this weekend's fixture. They ranged from criticisms of the Gunners woeful defence, to incensed fans demanding Wenger’s departure as he boarded a train. In their rematch at the Emirates, Arsenal desperately needed to respond. They did it with aplomb.
The Gunners’ performance was as complete as it could get. Their attacking play had all its usual wizardry reinforced with effective finishing. More impressively, their defence displayed the solidity and control that it lacked so badly during the reverse meeting. This 3-0 success puts Arsenal back on track and with important league and cup games on the horizon, could be an invaluable catalyst.
Among Arsenal’s numerous critics are that they lack an unrefined side that can occasionally be needed. When Stoke struggled to retain possession on Sunday, they attempted their physical tactics that they are renowned for.
Unfortunately for the Potters, whenever they had the ball Arsenal simply bullied them off it and attacked with intent. This clearly compromised Stoke and their performance yielded little. Arsenal now look better equipped to take on more physical opposition which may well answer some of the critics.
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Strong as an Ox yet equally skilful
It is easy to focus on the obvious talents of Alexis Sanchez, whose two goals helped Arsenal to victory on Sunday. He is a true to delight to watch. Yet the contributions of others should not be forgotten.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain epitomised Arsenal’s new physical edge. Ever since joining Arsenal, he has struggled to find his best role and where he fits into Wenger’s style. The 21-year-old settled on the right hand side alongside Sanchez and Santi Cazorla to great effect.
His combination of strength and pace has improved to great effect and he looked dangerous whenever he was on the ball. If he avoids injury and carries on this vein of form, Chamberlain can become the asset that Wenger has always proclaimed him to be.
Supporters thought it would never end, but the Gunners finally seem to be overcoming their crippling injury list. The sight of Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil on the Arsenal bench will have no doubt gladden fans’ hearts.
In the latter two’s brief appearances Walcott showed his lethal pace and Ozil’s delightful passing ability returned. With key players returning, Wenger has options which will be crucial in the business end of the season.
Arsenal’s victory over Stoke showed that they have shrugged off the fear of playing physical sides. Combining this with their usual skill and returning players from injury, Wenger’s men will threaten. Where better than to test out this newfound confidence than away at the reigning champions Manchester City.