Arsenal 3 Stoke City 0
When Alexis Sanchez blasted goalwards and the Stoke City defensive wall crumbled, this one-sided Arsenal victory was summed up in a heartbeat.
Sanchez watched his free-kick deflect and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic fumble it into the net, off his post, to give the Chile forward his second goal of the afternoon.
It was the latest illustration of Sanchez’s ability to make the difference – he was the star turn yet again and the well of superlatives has long since run dry – but from the Stoke point of view, it showed how weak their resistance was. They brought a physical approach to the first half, in particular, yet they were unable to stymie Arsenal, who enjoyed a measure of revenge for the 3-2 defeat that they suffered at the Britannia Stadium last month.
Sanchez now has 18 goals in his debut season in English football and there was able support for him from the excellent Santi Cazorla. There was also the tonic for Arsene Wenger of seeing the return of Mesut Özil as a 73rd-minute substitute, while Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini were also back on the bench after less serious injuries. At last, the club's treatment room seems to be clearing, although Mathieu Debuchy was readmitted with a shoulder problem after a nasty-looking collision with the advertising hoardings.
Wenger had dropped goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and started with David Ospina but the Colombian had little to do, other than take his goal-kicks and listen to the response of the home crowd. "Os-pin-nah," they shouted, when he had cleared. Stoke manager Mark Hughes spent most of the game slumped back in his seat on the bench and the travelling fans were given the final insult in the form of rail problems back up north afterwards.
This is a bogey ground, to say the least, for Stoke, and they made life even more difficult for themselves with a soft early concession following a lofted ball into the area. In the Potteries, it is known as “doing an Arsenal”. The boot was on the other foot here.
Sanchez's corner was poor but Stoke mucked up their attempt to clear, leaving Laurent Koscielny to roll the ball back to Sanchez, and trot towards the danger area. It is never wise to offer Sanchez a second bite. He crossed with more precision and Koscielny, whose run had gone untracked, headed home his second goal of the season.
Arsenal might have had more in what was a spiky first-half, which finished with the officials being booed off. The home crowd raged whenever Stoke’s players threw themselves into challenges, with Ryan Shawcross’s every touch being jeered. Forgiveness for that challenge on Ramsey will never be granted in these parts.
Shawcross tangled with Olivier Giroud while he cleaned out Sanchez with a hard but fair tackle. Peter Crouch caught Nacho Monreal with a stray arm and kicked Per Mertesacker but it was the 11th-minute flashpoint involving Marko Arnautovic that had the repercussions.
Arnautovic pushed Debuchy as the Arsenal defender sought to shepherd a ball over the dead-ball line and Debuchy banged into the hoardings. The Frenchman was taken off on a stretcher, following lengthy treatment on the side of the pitch.
Stoke were never going to sit back and allow Arsenal to weave their patterns. Wenger's team had to earn the right to play and Sánchez's determination shone through. He produced his latest stellar performance and his goal showcased both his industry and quicksilver quality. After Steven Nzonzi had been guilty of a heavy touch, Sanchez whipped in to rob him before getting the ball back from Tomas Rosicky. He darted into the area and shot low inside Begovic's near post.
Sanchez and Rosicky had drawn smart saves out of Begovic before Koscielny’s goal and Giroud was also thwarted by the goalkeeper on 21 minutes, moments after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had shot narrowly wide.
Stoke's big chance came in the 27th minute, when Bojan Krkic cut a free-kick back to Glenn Whelan on the edge of the area but, with Arsenal having expected the cross into the area and mustered no pressure on the midfielder, he shot high.
Hughes made a double half-time substitution, withdrawing Erik Pieters and Nzonzi but he could have replaced almost anyone. This was not Stoke's day and Sanchez killed the game when he scored with his free-kick through the wall, after the substitute Steve Sidwell had fouled Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the area.
Thereafter, it became a question of whether Arsenal would gloss the scoreline. They did not, although Cazorla, the substitute Theo Walcott and Özil had chances. Walcott's was the clearest but he dragged well wide when one-on-one with Begovic from Cazorla's pass. Stoke have now lost on all seven of their visits to the Emirates Stadium. This one never felt in doubt.