Alexis Sanchez is making his case as the Premier League’s best player with yet another epic performance against a poor Stoke City side. It appeared all too easy for Arsenal and especially Sanchez who again was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch, bagging two goals and adding a trademark assist to his name. It was heroics from Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal that saved the Potters from leaving London on the wrong end of an embarrassing drubbing.
Stoke came to London hoping to snap their 13 straight defeats streak against the Gunners at the Emirates and would be encouraged by their victory a month ago, but in the end their woeful performance left Mark Hughes sitting on the bench rightfully looking fed up all afternoon. Arsenal dominated the game through the impressive Chilean winger who had Cazorla, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain pulling the strings behind him. The Gunners never looked in doubt of winning and got their first great victory and performance of 2015.
Arsenal started very brightly and from the first second, the home team were all over Stoke, putting pressure on the visitors and not allowing them any breathing space. The first chance took only three minutes to follow and the first one fell to who else than Sanchez. Cameron, surrounded by three Arsenal players in his own box, only managed to clear as far as Cazorla who immediately found Monreal on the left. The full back passed to Sanchez on the left edge of the box, the Chilean turned around and tried to find the low far corner with a curling shot but Begovic stretched well to push the ball away.
The Gunners kept pushing and just three minutes later after a nice one-two between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla allowed the Spaniard to find Rosicky outside the box. The Czech midfielder set out on a superbdirect run evading three defenders before smashing an effort across goal from the six yard box. With Begovic, having no right to save it, he still somehow managed to get a hand to it and push it away for a corner. He was a busy boy in goal from the early stages. However even he could not rescue his team when Sanchez’s poor initial corner was cleared right back to him, with his second attempt the winger sent a great cross right on the head of Koscielny who was left with an easy task of directing his header in the back of the net. It was a well deserved lead for the home side.
Arsenal’s curse struck again 11 minutes into the game when Arnautovic sent Debuchy crushing into the advertising boards and the Frenchman dislocated his shoulder and was forced to come off for Bellerin. Despite this unpleasant moment, on the pitch the Gunners were well in control of the game. Rosicky and Cazorla found Sanchez who lead another dangerous lookingassault at the Potters’ back four, he found Oxlade Chamberlain just on the right edge of the box. The young England man beat Pieters but also the far post of Begovic with his resulting shot. On 20 minutes, Rosicky and Cazorla were at it again finding Sanchez on the left in the box, the Chilean then produced and exquisite pass to Giroud at the edge of the box and it took another superb stop from Begovic to keep the score at 1-0 after the Frenchman’s one time shot.
It took the visitors 25 minutes to get at least a sight of goal. Bojan’s penetrating run from the right was halted by a foul from Monreal just on the edge of the box. The resulting free kick deceived all Gunners who were expecting a cross. Instead, Bojan made a pass to Whelan 18 yards from from goal but he skyed his effort well above the bar. It was down to the infamous trio of Cazorla, Rosicky and Sanchez to make things happen again for Arsenal and they did. Cazorla running towards the centre from the left side passed to Rosicky who for a change was running in the opposite direction. The midfielder took the ball to Sanchez who immediately attempted a one-two with Rosicky but the initial attempt was intercepted. However Sanchez recovered the ball straight away and this time the one-two between the pair worked out wonderfully and left the winger running at Shawcross from the left wing. Sanchez cut on the inside to his right foot and just as Begovic made a step to his left expecting a shot to the far post (as did about everyone in the stadium), the Chilean sent a shot to the near post to double the Gunners’ lead as Thierry Henry looked on in approval from the stands.
Stoke’s first attack of note came 2 minutes into stoppage time from Arnautovic on the left whose cross was met by Crouch at the front post but his header went well wide. Mark Hughes definitely had a heated team talk withhis team at halftime but it was to little effect. From the first Arsenal attack, Chamberlain was fouled by Sidwell just outside the 18 yard box. Sanchez, who was clearly not satisfied with his afternoon tally up till this point, stood over the free kick and after a dummy run, sent a shot through the wall which deflected and crept in despite Bregovic’s desperate attempts. On the replay it showed the wall took some sting out of the shot but also sent it further away from the diving Stoke keeper who pushed the shot on the post with his fingertips, but from the post the ball ricocheted back into the keeper’s hand and behind the line.
At 3-0 down, the visitors at least focused on keeping their reputation as a tough team and focused on collecting yellow cards, before an awkward clearance from Mertesacker offered them a chance. The big German put Chamberlain into trouble and the winger lost the ball to Muniesa on the left of Stoke’s attacking the third. The low cross was met by the sliding Crouch but bubbled wide of Ospina’s post. Cazorla almost made it four in the 67th minute after exchanging passes with Chamberlain on the right edge of the box set the Spaniard running alone at Begovic from an angle. He produced a cheeky lob that only hit the top of the crossbar and bounced out of play.
The energetic Sanchez then attempted an audacious 40 yard lob of Begovic after he spotted the keeper to be off his line but this time sent his effort over, otherwise he would have surely brought the house down. Stoke actually got the ball in the back of the net after an Ireland cross was flicked on by Peter Crouch into the path of Cameron who lobbed Ospina but was correctly ruled offside. Arsenal’s last great chance of the game came on 80 minutes and the substitute Walcott should have scored. Rosicky’s wonderful first time pass with the outside of his foot sent Sanchez and Walcott racing two against one. The Chilean made Walcott proceed alone but face to face with Begovic the England man sliced his shot well wide of the post. Stoke’s first proper shot on target came in the 90th minute after a Stephen Ireland effort was saved by Ospina who ensured he kept his first clean sheet in the Premier League on his first start.
Arsene Wenger will be pleased with his team’s performance in what was an emphatic performance by his team. This was an important result and on the base of this performance and Sanchez’s form, Arsenal should clinch a spot in the top four as per usual. However the Gunners will be up against a different task next weekend when they pay a visit to Champions Manchester City at the Etihad. Whether or not they can duplicate this performance against a big team remains to be seen.
Alexis Sanchez now contributed to 19 Premier League goals this season. That is the most with Sergio Aguero (17) in second. The man is certainly an exquisite talent and was well worth his £35 million price tag and on current form is one of the best five players in England, but is he the best in the country? In the six games against the other teams in the current top six, his tally is only 2 goals. Out of those six games, Arsenal took five points, winning one, drawing two and losing three. The teams from the bottom half of the table tend to allow the Chilean a lot of time with the ball and space to run into, that is what Stoke have done and Sanchez flourished scoring 2, creating 5 chances and completing 5 take-ons most of which came when he was leading an attack. However, teams like Chelsea, Southampton last weekend and even Stoke in the first game managed to contain the winger by putting bodies around him and not allowing him space to run into. All three teams have won their respective games… Are you listening Manuel Pellegrini?
In the encounter at the Britannia Stadium, the Potters have managed to keep Sanchez to two shots, he has completed only 66% of his passes, created three chances and completed three take-ons out of seven. Fast forward one month and Alexis manages four shots, an 88% pass accuracy, creates five chances and completes five take-ons out of seven all in dangerous areas. In the stats shown below, it can be seen how often Sanchez created a chance in an area just outside the box in this game compared to where he was allowed to create from at the Britannia. A similar pattern can be observed in the Chileans take-ons. The difference between the two games was the way Stoke approached the threat of Alexis Sanchez.