Arsenal leave it late to inflict defeat on struggling Stoke
Controversial penalty sets Gunners on the road to 3-0 victory as Aubameyang nets twice.
Arsenal scored three times in the last 15 minutes to condemn Premier League strugglers Stoke to a heavy defeat but it took a highly contentious spot-kick to break the deadlock.
The Gunners, with more than one eye on Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final with CSKA Moscow, were not at the races for much of the afternoon but keep a grip on sixth place following a 3-0 win.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened the scoring with a controversial penalty as Bruno Martins Indi was adjudged to have fouled Mesut Ozil, only for replays to show he won the ball.
The Gabon striker added a second soon after, before substitute Alexandre Lacazette marked his return from knee surgery with another spot-kick.
Stoke – who had seen a host of their fellow relegation candidates lose on Saturday – had worked hard and looked to be on for at least a valuable point, until their late capitulation.
The defeat leaves the visitors three points from safety with just six games remaining.
Stoke had the better of the early exchanges, with Xherdan Shaqiri curling a decent effort wide of David Ospina’s post, the Colombian retaining his place in the Arsenal goal as Petr Cech missed out with a groin injury.
Arsenal took some time to get going and did not threaten the Stoke goal until the midway point of the first half.
Hector Bellerin’s low cross was deflected up into the air, with Jack Butland only able to send the ball in the direction of Aaron Ramsey – whose looped effort bounced off the top of the crossbar and behind.
It was the Wales international who again came close after some smart work from captain Jack Wilshere allowed him to get a shot away that was deflected off target for a corner.
Mohamed Elneny saw a driven effort blocked by Martins Indi early in the second half, with Nacho Monreal’s measured shot from the rebound saved by Butland.
Wenger turned to fit-again Lacazette in the hope of adding a greater goal-threat, while Stoke introduced Saido Berahino in place of the injured Mame Biram Diouf.
The visitors briefly broke forward with a quarter of the game remaining, Shaqiri only able to angle a shot straight at Ospina following a corner.
The Switzerland international almost scored directly from the next corner, hitting the inside of the post with a whipped set-piece that had Ospina beaten.
Berahino, too, had a decent chance as the Potters looked to spring a surprise, the result of which was a response from the hosts.
Aubameyang, on the periphery for much of the contest, broke the offside trap but was denied by Butland, before Lacazette’s close-range strike was blocked behind. Calum Chambers bundled the resulting set-piece into the welcoming grasp of the England goalkeeper.
The turning point came with 15 minutes to go as referee Craig Pawson pointed to the spot as Ozil went down under close attention from Martins Indi.
The Stoke defender had a right to feel aggrieved as he got his foot to the ball – but Aubameyang stepped up to convert the resulting penalty.
Badou Ndiaye curled an effort wide as Stoke chased a deserved share of the spoils before Butland did well to prevent substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ozil doubling Arsenal’s lead.
But the England man could do nothing to stop Aubameyang turning home his second of the afternoon, before Lacazette converted from the spot after he had been shoved over by Ndiaye.