EPL: Outstanding Oezil

The run continues. Since losing to Aston Villa on an ill-tempered August afternoon, Arsenal have won seven consecutive games in all competitions.

Even their arch-nemeses Stoke City can't knock them off their stride and it wasn't for the lack of trying.

Mark Hughes' team allied their new-found passing game with their long-established and muchfeared physicality, but it soon became apparent that the Potters aren't the only team with new tricks.

In Mesut Oezil, Arsenal finally have a player who can be replied on to provide his teammates with a consistent supply line.

His free-kick in the fifth minute troubled Asmir Begovic so much that it was all he could do to palm it straight to a grateful Aaron Ramsey.

His corner before the break was flighted so perfectly that it was a simple task for Per Mertesacker to nod home, and another second-half free-kick was headed home by Bacary Sagna, just as Stoke were hauling their way back into the game.

Withdrawn with 10 minutes to go, Oezil was given a rapturous standing ovation. As home debuts go, this ranks rather highly.

Arsenal had been dealt an early blow when Theo Walcott was taken ill shortly before kick-off. His place in the team was taken by the highlyrated youngster Serge Gnabry.

Stoke are not the kind of opponents that a slight 18-year-old would choose for their ideal home debut and Gnabry was given a welcome to the Premier League that he is unlikely to forget.

One heavy challenge from Robert Huth threatened to shatter the young man into a thousand pieces.

He was, understandably, unable to live up to the hype, but there will be other times, and he will learn from this experience.

Arsenal have learned much since that openingday defeat, settling into their new shape quickly.

In the middle, Ramsey played a near-perfect game, tidying up and shifting the ball onwards with precision and intelligence.

Mathieu Flamini was less aesthetically pleasing, but equally effective.

In front of them, Jack Wilshere was given the chance to surge upfield with the ball with a drive that brought back memories of a young Paul Gascoigne.

Wilshere, however, has been targeted and his weaknesses have been identified.

Enraged

In every game, he is swiped at and scythed down, not just to dispossess him, but to enrage him. It always works.

Wilshere should have been booked long before half-time for heavy challenges that stank of retribution. It's hard to blame him, given the punishment that he takes every game but, at some point, he will have to learn to control his temper.

Wilshere dovetailed nicely with Oezil, the German allowing himself to drift wherever he felt needed.

However, his greatest contribution came from his set-pieces.

For years, Arsenal have been frustratingly poor with corners but, in Oezil, they finally have someone who knows what he's doing.

Stoke could not have given any more to the cause. They fought hard for every ball and they did their best to forge chances.

Geoff Cameron briefly brought his team back into the game, slamming home an equaliser after Marko Arnautovic's initial shot bounced back off the post.

The American was Stoke's most dangerous outlet, rampaging up and down the right wing, supplying a steady stream of low crosses.

Unfortunately for Stoke, there was no-one there to convert them.

Don't underestimate what this victory will do to morale at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal's rivalry with Stoke is a curious, non-geographical one, but the animosity between the two teams burns brightly.

The Arsenal supporters took great relish in this result.

Times are changing in North London. Any more of this and it might be time to reassess their title credentials.

npsports@sph.com.sg


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