First-half efforts from Peter Crouch, Bojan Krkic and Jonathan Walters had put Stoke in complete control at half-time and only a controversial decision from referee Anthony Taylor midway through the second half had denied them a four-goal lead.
Taylor’s ruling threatened to be a major talking point when two quickfire goals from Santi Cazorla, from the penalty spot, and Aaron Ramsey gave the Gunners hope, however the dismissal of Calum Chambers ruined the visitors’ momentum.
A point would have flattered Wenger’s team after a catastrophic first-half showing as they missed the chance to move into the Premier League’s top four.
Stoke’s win continued their excellent home record against the Gunners, making it five victories and two draws from their eight league matches against them at the Britannia Stadium – and the ease with which they got at Wenger’s team is sure to see more questions raised over the Frenchman’s tactics.
There has been an edge to this fixture ever since the controversial challenge by Ryan Shawcross on Ramsey in 2010 which left the Arsenal midfielder with a broken leg, while Potters supporters have never forgiven Wenger for subsequently likening their tactics to that of a “rugby” team.
Surely even Hughes could not have dreamt up such a perfect start, however, as his team seized the lead within just 19 seconds.
The plaudits belonged to Crouch as he neatly laid the ball off to Steven Nzonzi, wide on the right, before continuing his run into the box and the towering forward could not believe his good fortune as Hector Bellerin – a surprise inclusion – lost his footing at the crucial moment to gift Crouch a virtually empty net with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez already wrong-footed.
– Wenger taunted –
Next it was Bojan’s turn to get on the scoresheet as, with 35 minutes gone, he expertly stole in at the near post to exquisitely volley home Walters’ whipped right-wing delivery.
It was his second goal in the league and first at the Britannia Stadium – and there were cries of “2-0 to the rugby team” and “Swing low sweet chariot” aimed at Wenger from the home fans.
Republic of Ireland international Walters then got in on the act on the stroke of half-time, lashing in at the far post after a Bojan corner fell invitingly for him to complete a stunning first 45 minutes from Hughes’ team.
Then the controversy came as Bojan cut inside before beating Martinez at his near post with a low strike only for Taylor to rule the goal out, much to Stoke’s frustration.
Taylor appeared to deem Mame Biram Diouf was interfering with play from an offside position, yet it looked a harsh call from the official.
The decision had a galvanising effect on the visitors and within a minute Taylor had further incensed the home side when he pointed to the penalty spot when Mathieu Flamini went to ground inside the penalty area after a tangling of legs with Diouf.
Cazorla converted the 68th-minute penalty despite the best efforts of Asmir Begovic, who guessed correctly.
Begovic saved well from Welbeck’s first-time effort as the Gunners finally embarked on a period of dominance and, from the resulting corner, Ramsey volleying in Alexis Sanchez’s delivery from the edge of the penalty area to make it two goals in as many minutes.
The momentum swung back towards Stoke, however, when Chambers was red carded in the 79th minute for a second bookable offence following a shirt tug on Bojan and it proved pivotal as the Potters hung on to complete a memorable victory.