LONDON, January 11 – Alexis Sanchez capped an outstanding individual display with two goals as Arsenal moved up to fifth in the Premier League with a 3-0 victory against Stoke on Sunday.
Laurent Koscielny set Arsene Wenger’s side on course for the win with a sixth minute header but it was Sanchez who stood out, scoring either side of half-time at the Emirates Stadium to take his season tally to 18.
Sanchez’s latest heroics moved Arsenal level on points with fourth-placed Southampton, who were due to face Manchester United at Old Trafford later on Sunday.
And while a serious looking shoulder injury to Arsenal right-back Mathieu Debuchy took some of the gloss off the win, the return of Mesut Ozil for his first appearance since early October provided Wenger with another welcome boost.
Arsenal had no shortage of motivation in their efforts to revive their top four challenge in the wake of the New Year’s Day defeat at Southampton that had left them in sixth place.
Tottenham’s loss at Crystal Palace on Saturday offered Wenger’s side a chance to leapfrog their north London rivals, while they were also keen to avenge a chastening 3-2 defeat at the Britannia Stadium last month.
On that occasion, Mark Hughes’ side had gone ahead after just 19 seconds and were in complete control when they reached half-time three up, sparking fierce criticism of Wenger.
But Stoke had lost on each of their 12 visits to Arsenal since 1981 and it soon became clear that run would continue as Wenger’s men set about the game like a side with a score to settle.
Almost immediately Stoke were forced onto the back foot and had cause to thank the outstanding reactions of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic who saved well from Sanchez’s curling shot.
Then in the sixth minute the Bosnia keeper produced an even better full length dive to tip Tomas Rosicky’s angled shot wide.
– Lethal Sanchez –
The respite was short-lived however, with Begovic left exposed when Sanchez whipped in the resulting corner.
The Chilean’s set-piece was half-cleared but when he returned it into the Stoke box at the second time of asking, Koscielny had pulled away from the inattentive Glenn Whelan and directed a free header beyond Begovic.
Already it appeared as though Arsenal were in for a relatively routine afternoon, although they were forced to overcome the 12th minute loss of Debuchy who was stretchered off with a shoulder injury after crashing into the pitchside hoardings after colliding with Marko Arnautovic.
Debuchy has already missed three months of the season with an ankle problem and another prolonged absence will be a major loss during a crucial part of the campaign.
On this occasion though, Arsenal coped easily without the France international, with David Ospina rarely troubled.
The Colombia goalkeeper was selected ahead of Wojciech Szczesny, with Wenger keen to insist the decision had been made on form and not as a result of Szczesny being fined for smoking in the showers after the Southampton defeat.
Whelan should have done better with a clear shot on goal but that was the only time Stoke threatened and Arsenal doubled their lead in the 33rd minute when Sanchez produced his latest moment of individual brilliance.
He exchanged passes with Rosicky and cut into the Stoke area from the left before deceiving Begovic with an angled shot that flew in at the near post.
A double substitution at half-time did nothing to lift Stoke and Sanchez put the game beyond the visitors’ reach when he drilled a low free-kick through an unconvincing defensive wall after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been brought down by Geoff Cameron.
The contest was effectively over although Arsenal should have added to Stoke’s embarrassment with Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Ozil all spurning good chances to widen the margin of victory.