Match ends, Stoke City 1, Arsenal 4.
Champions League-chasing Arsenal moved within a point of fourth-placed Liverpool with a comfortable Premier League victory over Stoke.
Despite collecting the three points, manager Arsene Wenger faced further protests from his own supporters during the game, as they flew a plane over the Bet365 Stadium and held banners inside the ground calling for him to leave the club.
But the Frenchman ended the game by receiving warm applause from the club’s travelling fans as he made his way down the tunnel at the final whistle.
The Gunners had not won on their previous six visits to the venue, but took the lead with a well-crafted move as Hector Bellerin picked out Olivier Giroud for a tap-in before Alexis Sanchez combined with Mesut Ozil, who coolly tucked home in the second period.
Until their opening goal it had been a poor spectacle, with Nacho Monreal heading against the post and Sanchez dragging an effort into the side-netting from a promising position.
Stoke controversially restored hope as Peter Crouch converted Marko Arnautovic’s cross with his hand, but Sanchez drilled in a low finish and Giroud slid in a fourth for the away side.
Both Arsenal and Liverpool have two games remaining and are level on goal difference with the Gunners ahead by one on goals scored.
Jurgen Klopp’s men travel to West Ham on Sunday (kick-off 14:15 BST) and play Middlesbrough on the last day of the season, while the north London club host Sunderland on Tuesday and Everton in their final league match next weekend.
Arsenal to finish with a flourish?
Wenger’s season has been blighted by protests demanding he end his long association with the club, repeated questions over whether he will sign an extension to his contract, which runs out at the end of the season, and uncertainty over the futures of key players Sanchez and Ozil.
But he will be pleased with the way his players have responded with the campaign coming to a close, taking five wins from their past six league games – the only blemish a weak display in their defeat by Tottenham.
He was even afforded a standing ovation at full-time and will be particularly satisfied at triumphing at a venue where his side have struggled in the past, claiming their first win there since 2010.
Wenger jumped off his seat and jigged in delight at Sanchez’s goal, which gave his team a cushion.
The Chilean, who has been linked with a move away, hobbled off with a leg injury after scoring and fans will be hoping it is not the last time they see him in an Arsenal shirt.
A season that promised so little at one stage could actually turn into a celebratory one. Their late charge sees them maintain optimism of extending their Champions League participation to 22 consecutive seasons, and they have an FA Cup final against newly crowned Premier League champions Chelsea to look forward to.
Stoke potter in bottom half
Stoke’s season is petering out with a whimper – they have won just one of their past 10 league games.
This loss means they will finish in the bottom half for the first time since 2012-13 – their worst season in the Premier League as they finished 13th with 42 points.
Although the Potters are in the same position at the moment, they have one fewer point and will be hoping to win their last game of the season at Southampton to end on a high.
Even after pulling a goal back against Arsenal – which should not have stood after Crouch’s handball – Stoke did not look like getting anything out of the game with Mame Biram Diouf summing up their performance by nodding wide from just three yards out.
Man of the match – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
One goal and one assist, Sanchez is getting back to his best at the right time for Arsenal but handed the Gunners an injury scare by hobbling off shortly after his goal.
‘Suffer and stick together’
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: “We had a difficult week but we have won convincingly so the focus is there, the fighting spirit is there and we’re pleased to win. I believe when the team plays well we have the right individual talent to win.
“When they scored the ‘hand-goal’ they came back but when you go to places like Stoke you need at some stage to suffer and stick together and that is what we did.”
Stoke boss Mark Hughes: “We had to chase to the game and we have been picked off going the opposite way. Playing for five minutes isn’t enough. We needed to ask more questions.
“We are disappointed as it is always our aim [to finish in the top half of the table]. This is the first time we have missed out. We go against Southampton next week to get points on the board. In the summer we will assess things and maybe change things around.”
Sanchez joins Arsenal greats – the stats
- Stoke have shipped 24 goals at home this season – their joint-highest in a single Premier League campaign (same as 2015-16).
- Arsenal have scored 4+ goals in five away league games this season. It’s their most in a season since 1936-37 (also five).
- Sanchez became the eighth player to score 50 Premier League goals for Arsenal, with only Thierry Henry (83 games) and Ian Wright (87) reaching the milestone faster than the Chilean (101).
- Sanchez is also the first player to record double figures for both goals (21) and assists (10) in the Premier League this season.
- The South American also scored his 15th away goal in the Premier League this season – only Kevin Phillips (16 in 1999-00) has scored more in a single campaign.
- Peter Crouch scored his ninth Premier League goal against Arsenal – more than he has against any other opponent in the competition.
- Only Wayne Rooney (11) and Robbie Fowler (10) have scored more against the Gunners in the competition.
- Since the start of last season, only Ozil (31) and Sanchez (25) have recorded more assists for Arsenal in all competitions than Hector Bellerin (13), with the Spaniard picking up two today.
Second Half ends, Stoke City 1, Arsenal 4.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Erik Pieters (Stoke City).
Attempt blocked. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Saido Berahino.
Peter Crouch (Stoke City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Peter Crouch (Stoke City).
Attempt blocked. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Glenn Whelan.
Attempt saved. Geoff Cameron (Stoke City) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner.
Substitution, Arsenal. Theo Walcott replaces Olivier Giroud.
Substitution, Arsenal. Danny Welbeck replaces Mesut Özil.
Substitution, Stoke City. Ramadan Sobhi replaces Marko Arnautovic because of an injury.
Goal! Stoke City 1, Arsenal 4. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) left footed shot from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City) because of an injury.
Rob Holding (Arsenal) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Rob Holding (Arsenal).
Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt saved. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Olivier Giroud.
Substitution, Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey replaces Alexis Sánchez because of an injury.
Goal! Stoke City 1, Arsenal 3. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) right footed shot from the right side of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Héctor Bellerín.
Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Glenn Whelan (Stoke City).
Attempt saved. Saido Berahino (Stoke City) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Xherdan Shaqiri.
Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Glen Johnson (Stoke City).
Attempt blocked. Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked.
Goal! Stoke City 1, Arsenal 2. Peter Crouch (Stoke City) with an attempt from the left side of the six yard box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Marko Arnautovic with a cross.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Ryan Shawcross.
Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Bruno Martins Indi (Stoke City).
Attempt missed. Peter Crouch (Stoke City) header from very close range misses to the right. Assisted by Xherdan Shaqiri with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Petr Cech.
Attempt saved. Bruno Martins Indi (Stoke City) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Geoff Cameron with a headed pass.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Nacho Monreal.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Olivier Giroud.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Rob Holding.
Substitution, Stoke City. Saido Berahino replaces Mame Biram Diouf.
Substitution, Stoke City. Peter Crouch replaces Joe Allen.