Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Stoke City was a strange one. The convincing final score-line somewhat hides the fact that it was a lucky one too.
With the Europa League game on Thursday in mind, Arsene Wenger rested several players. But the first-half performance was poor by any Arsenal player’s standards – regardless of his status in the squad.
Stoke came into this match to do the best they can to win, that much was clear from the start. There was no bus-parking by Paul Lambert’s men. Being in the middle of a tough relegation battle, they came to the Emirates and brought the game to Arsenal. And for a large part of the contest, we can’t honestly say the Gunners were the better team at all. There was far too much careless play, especially in midfield.
Quite apart from that Xherdan Shaqiri came close to giving the Potters the lead on two occasions. David Ospina was beaten both times, and only sheer luck saved his net from being shaken by the ball inside it.
But things improved significantly after the break, and even more so after an hour when Alexandre Lacazette came on to replace Danny Welbeck. The Frenchman’s class was immediately clear, highlighting just how much the team missed him during his stint of injury-caused absence.
It has recently been suggested that Arsenal should try playing with two strikers – Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and during the last half an hour of the game we had the pleasure of seeing just how well they can work together. Perhaps not so much in terms of combining with each other, but the presence of one certainly helps the other in terms of the attention of the opposition defence.
Both players present a significant goal threat and the defenders trying to stop them are simply forced to divide their efforts.
Luck was again with the Gunners in the first penalty situation – replays clearly prove Bruno Martins Indi played the ball and Mesut Özil actually struck him, rather than the other way around. But there’s no denying the fact that by that time, the team had taken the game into their hands and were outplaying their opponents.
Unfortunately, playing these two players together is not an option for Thursday as Aubameyang is ineligible to play in the competition for Arsenal this season. The Premier League might be nothing more than a lost cause at the moment, but there’s no reason not to try this system out, at least occasionally.
Arsenal can be backed at 1/5 to go through to the Europa League semifinals.