Arsenal vs Stoke match report: Alexis Sanchez sets the standard to rid Gunners of their Stokeaphobia

Arsenal 3 Stoke 0: £35m striker scores twice and sets up the opener for Laurent Koscielny to help the gain revenge for last month's defeat

Even those two old club heroes, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, side-by-side in the expensive seats at the Emirates today, would have to acknowledge that when it comes to Alexis Sanchez, this is one footballer who is so good he would have walked into any Arsenal team in any generation.

He may never parade a Premier League trophy around the streets of Islington but Sanchez is steadily establishing himself as comparable to the giants of the club’s recent history, with 18 goals now in his first season and a useful capacity to create goals from nothing. Stoke can make up for many shortcomings with their commitment and their organisation but when the deficit to the opposition includes one Alexis Sanchez then it can be too great a gap to bridge.

The effect of Sanchez on his often under-achieving team-mates is notable, and this was an Arsenal team that looked, from the very beginning, as if they were determined to make up for the 3-2 defeat to Stoke at the Britannia at the start of last month. It was Sanchez who made the first goal for Laurent Koscielny on six minutes and neither he, nor his team-mates ever looked back from that.

The Sanchez effect is so great that even the return from injury of Mesut Ozil, on as a late substitute, was not the great rallying point that it might have been one year ago. It is Sanchez who sets the standards now, it is he who is the marquee man and the great hope for the future and Ozil is just another who will simply have to fit in around him. Sanchez has started more games this season, 29, and scored more goals than anyone else in the Arsenal squad and he shows no signs of slowing.

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Wojciech Szczesny was left on the bench

It helps when Sanchez is not obliged to do it all on his own and while he scored two and made the other, he was supported by an all-round Arsenal performance that was a good deal better than their last league outing, that defeat to Southampton. In midfield Francis Coquelin gave them extra bite and either side of him Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla were impeccable. In defence, Per Mertesacker did not allow himself, this time, to be overwhelmed by Peter Crouch.

Afterwards, Wenger claimed that it was not the smoking offence after the Southampton defeat that saw Wojciech Szczesny dropped and consigned to the naughty step against Stoke. The Arsenal manager was reluctant to go into the reasons for why David Ospina was selected ahead of the Pole, culpable for one of Southampton’s goals in that 2-0 dfeat and glowering on the bench under a large hood.

 

Szczesny is still Arsenal’s No 1, Wenger said, which suggests that his exile might not last that long. There were returns for Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, the latter an unused substitute, but within minutes of the start there was another injury for Wenger to contemplate. This was Mathieu Debuchy, already absent for three months this season with an ankle injury, who was dispatched into the advertising boards with a crafty shove by Marko Arnautovic who himself went unpunished by the referee Jon Moss.

In the end, Wenger did not think that it was a “dirty game” although Debuchy has dislocated his shoulder and will almost definitely miss the league game away to Manchester City on Sunday. The absence of another defender who can play across the back four will surely sharpen Wenger’s resolve to sign a new player in that position in this window. “I was in the market anyway,” said Wenger, still without Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers who was too ill to feature.

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Ospina between the sticks

 

The win moves Arsenal back up to fifth ahead of Tottenham Hotspur. Wenger’s side are only a point short of their total at the same stage in 1997-1998, when they came from fifth place and 12 points behind Manchester United after 21 games to win the league. As for Stoke, they stay in 11 and were never seriously in this, after Koscielny’s opener on six minutes. Mark Hughes gave a debut to the German defender Philipp Wollscheid who acquitted himself well given the scale of the task on this, his first ever Premier League game.

For long periods of the first half, Stoke struggled to break out of their own territory. Sanchez and Rosicky both went close before Koscielny opened the scoring. The French defender helped recycle the ball back to Sanchez from a corner and then ran intelligently back into the box, left by Glenn Whelan, to head in his team-mate’s cross.

The Chilean was, once again, playing a game with which many of those on the pitch were not familiar. Aside from the very occasional burst of skill from Bojan Krkic or Cazorla there really was no-one to touch Sanchez. His first goal was typical of his brilliance, created from nothing yet made to look so simple.

He exchanged passes with Rosicky, leaping out of a clumsy challenge from Steven Nzonzi along the way. Approaching the box he bamboozled Ryan Shawcross with a shimmy and then shot the other side of the Stoke captain, beating Asmir Begovic at his near post.

At the other end, Crouch ploughed a lonely furrow with the little possession Stoke did have generating very few of the crosses that their centre-forward thrives upon. Bojan bewitched Nacho Monreal into a foul that gave Stoke a promising free-kick on the right. The ball was cut back to Whelan and, unmarked on the edge of the box, he failed to hit the target.

Four minutes after the break, the substitute Steven Sidwell, on for the ineffective Nzonzi conceded a free-kick on the edge of his own area. Sanchez’s low strike took a deflection through the wall and Begovic flapped it into his own goal. Hughes’ side ran out of ideas and Arsenal should have had more with substitutes Theo Walcott and Ozil both missing chances late on.

The Stokeaphobia which grips the Emirates found its release on this occasion with a victory that expressed the gulf between the two teams. Even Hughes had to admit that his team had been out-classed, unable to get near to the passing sprites of the Arsenal midfield who looked especially sharp. But no-one got close to the performance levels of Sanchez, a man who elevates this team and wins matches.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Ospina; Debuchy (Bellerin, 13), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Rosicky, Coquelin, Cazorla; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott, 68), Giroud (Ozil, 74), Sanchez.

Substitutes not used: Szczesny (gk), Ramsey, Flamini, Campbell.

Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Wollscheid, Shawcross, Pieters (Muniesa, ht); Nzonzi (Sidwell, ht), Whelan; Arnautovic, Bojan (Ireland, 73), Walters; Crouch.

Substitutes not used: Wilson, Moses, Adam, Butland (gk).

Booked: Stoke Wollscheid, Crouch

Referee: J Moss

Man of the match: Sanchez

Rating: 6

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