Tuesday 24 April 2018

Walcott and Giroud find range eventually to get Gunners firing again

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City

Theo Walcott opens the scoring for Arsenal past Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland
Theo Walcott opens the scoring for Arsenal past Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland
Mark Hughes, Manager of Stoke City gives instructions
Olivier Giroud of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal
Olivier Giroud of Arsenal heads one past Butland

Amy Lawrence

Whether either (or both) can lead a Premier League title challenge remains central to the Arsenal narrative these days

But Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud delivered against a poor Stoke team. The forwards provided typical moments - both endured the odd excruciating miss, yet persevered to finish off in the style they are capable of. Walcott's goal was all about profiting from a pacy move. Giroud's was a show of aerial strength from a set-piece.

Fuse them together and Arsenal might just have Wenger's ideal, but in the current formation he tends to choose one or the other. Here Walcott started. Statistically, an 11th goal from 11 Premier League starts outlines a strong case.

Arsenal's desperation to get back to scoring ways saw them carve Stoke open early with serious intent. It seemed bizarre that they were not comfortably in front within the first 10 minutes.

Santi Cazorla's ball and Alexis Sánchez's run were perfectly timed to do damage in the third minute. The Chilean guided his header goalwards only to be denied by an excellent save from Jack Butland. Walcott's attempt to dispatch the rebound will not be one he will enjoy watching again.

There was no time for Stoke to settle before Sánchez cracked in a free-kick and lashed a shot against the far post. Then Héctor Bellerín delivered a cross for Walcott, who steered his header over.

Having weathered the early tornado, the game reached a pivotal point. As if on a mission to etch a different story, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny ambled forward to seize the initiative. The centre-half leathered in a shot from 30 yards which Butland tipped over.

Arsenal's moment arrived. They were set in motion by Francis Coquelin, whose tackle to dispossess Mato Joselu had a hint of Patrick Vieira about it. Mesut Özil picked up the ball and suddenly Wenger's team were all about pace - Özil's lobbed pass moved the ball forward quickly, and Walcott showed the strength to hold off Marc Muniesa before jabbing in the opening goal.

Stoke emerged after the break looking as if Mark Hughes had politely reminded them that cruising through a game in a bit of a daze was not on.

Stoke were lifted by the sight of Xherdan Shaqiri taking a shot, and the Swiss maverick perked up enough to stake his claim as his team's most dangerous outlet when he found room to take aim twice in quick succession - blocked both times by Bellerín.

As Arsenal's sharpness dipped slightly, a note of uncertainty entered the game. Giroud was brought on for the last 15 minutes. It clearly meant a lot to the Frenchman to get another chance and he seized the moment to make the game safe by finishing off a corner with a neat near-post header.

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