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.
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. 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. 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.