Giroud brace keeps Arsenal in the hunt
Olivier Giroud scored twice as Arsenal won 4-1 at Stoke City on Saturday to maintain manager Arsene Wenger’s hopes of a top-four finish and Champions League qualification.
Arsenal endured an anxious spell in the second half after Stoke substitute Peter Crouch reduced the arrears to 2-1 with a goal scored using his arm that was allowed to stand.
But eventually Wenger’s side turned in a clinical display to move to within a point of fourth-place Liverpool.
Giroud scored the opening goal on 42 minutes as Arsenal scythed their way through the Stoke defence impressively.
Francis Coquelin picked out the run of overlapping wing-back Hector Bellerin and his low cross eluded a couple of defenders to pick out the unmarked Giroud, who converted from all of two yards.
Any doubt about the game’s outcome looked to have disappeared when Arsenal doubled their lead through Mesut Ozil on 55 minutes with a stunningly simple goal.
Ozil started the move with a short pass to Alexis Sanchez before darting into the area, collecting the Chilean’s return pass and lifting the ball over Jack Butland.
Two goals behind, Stoke finally burst into life after manager Mark Hughes threw on Saido Berahino and Crouch as forward replacements.
After a spell of aerial pressure, Marko Arnautovic darted down the left on 67 minutes and his cross was turned in by Crouch, whose handball went unnoticed by the match officials.
The atmosphere at Stoke’s ground lifted dramatically as the home support sensed the chance of an equaliser.
But Arsenal showed resolve and took just nine minutes to restore their two-goal cushion and secure a fifth victory in their last six games.
Bellerin again took up an advanced position and found Sanchez, who drove into the area before unleashing a low shot that went in off the far post via a deflection off Ryan Shawcross.
– Sanchez hobbles off –
There appeared little hope for Stoke and Giroud’s second goal 10 minutes from time ensured that was the case as he again converted from close range, this time six yards out.
Ozil picked out the run of substitute Aaron Ramsey, who created room in the Stoke area to cross from the byline for the Frenchman to claim his 12th goal of the league campaign.
Ramsey had entered the fray in place of man-of-the-match Sanchez, who hobbled off with an apparent thigh injury.
The impressive win must have been particularly sweet for Wenger, who has suffered a poor record on his visits to Stoke and had not won in his previous eight away league games against Hughes’s teams.
The fact Wenger would have seen a plane fly over the stadium early in the game, carrying a banner demanding his removal, would have made the latest three points all the more poignant.
So too the fact the visiting supporters chanted his name approvingly in response.
Aside from a 10-minute spell either side of the Stoke goal, a sequence that started with Stoke striker Mame Biram Diouf missing an open goal from an Arnautovic cross, there was little to trouble the Gunners.
Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland tipped over an early header from Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal struck the post with a header from a Bellerin cross before the scoring started.
In the period of Stoke pressure at the other end, Petr Cech kept out a set-piece header from Bruno Martins Indi and smothered a Berahino drive.
But the deadly manner in which Arsenal killed off that fightback meant that the visitors were the more likely team to add to the five goals scored.
Butland had to dive sharply to keep out a shot from Ramsey as the Welsh international made his impact felt.
The England goalkeeper was equally solid in thwarting another Arsenal replacement, Theo Walcott, in the closing stages.