Arsenal’s record signing Mesut Ozil continued to repay his £43 million transfer fee with a hat-trick of assists as the Gunners moved back to the top of the Barclays Premier League after a 3-1 win over Stoke at the Emirates Stadium.
Scorers: Arsenal - Ramsey (5), Mertesacker (36), Sagna (72); Stoke City - Cameron (26)
Referee: M Dean
Ozil, signed from Real Madrid on deadline day, had a hand in three of Arsenal’s goals as Arsene Wenger’s men ultimately proved too strong for Mark Hughes’ well-organised team.
“I believe that once he is completely integrated we will see even more of him, but he has shown today that he is a great player,” said Wenger afterwards.
“Ozil is a player. When you look at his numbers, the assists are not a coincidence, it is just the reality of his game. You could see today he has a good pace as well. At the moment he focuses a lot on his passing, but he can create individually as well.”
Aaron Ramsey smashed in his seventh goal of an impressive season so far after Ozil’s fifth-minute free-kick was parried by Asmir Begovic, but Geoff Cameron swept in a deserved equaliser for the visitors.
Ozil’s class, though, proved the difference again as his corner was flicked home by compatriot Per Mertesacker to give Arsenal the lead again before half-time and another pinpoint deadball delivery made sure of all three points when Bacary Sagna looped in a header on 72 minutes.
Arsenal have responded with seven straight wins since they were beaten 3-1 at home by Aston Villa on the opening day of the season – and if Ozil continues his impressive displays, Wenger’s squad could just be set for a long-overdue sustained assault on the Premier League title.
Wenger was forced into a late change to his starting XI when England forward Theo Walcott suffered a minor abdominal strain during the warm-up and was replaced by German youngster Serge Gnabry. Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner was on the bench for the first time this season, after a move away during the transfer window was blocked. It did not take long for Ozil to have an impact, as his 20-yard curling free kick was parried out by Begovic, with the on-fire Ramsey first to the loose ball to slot home. Ramsey wheeled away in delight, his finger to his lips in front of the Stoke fans, some of whom are always quick to remind the Wales midfielder of a double leg-break suffered in a tackle by Potters defender Ryan Shawcross at the Britannia Stadium in February 2010.
For his part, Shawcross continued to be roundly booed by sections of the home crowd every time he was on the ball. To their credit, Stoke slowly grew into the match and were level on 26 minutes. Arsenal’s defence was caught square by a deep ball through the penalty area by Steven Nzonzi on the right and Marko Arnautovic crashed his volley against the base of the far post. The rebound fell back out to American Cameron, who kept his effort low to beat Wojciech Szczesny’s in the bottom right corner. Arsenal were soon back on the offensive, and it was 2-1 on 36 minutes. Ozil’s corner from the right was flicked on at the near post by Mertesacker and his header dropped inside the far corner.
At the start of the second half, Gnabry – another German hoping to impress watching national team manager Joachim Low – was flattened by Robert Huth as Arsenal broke quickly. Referee Mike Dean played a good advantage as Olivier Giroud got clear to fire in a shot from 20 yards which was palmed over by Begovic before Huth was shown his due yellow card. Just after the hour, Ozil was played through into the right side of the penalty area by a knockdown by Jack Wilshere, but Begovic saved the German’s low, angled drive.
At the other end, Szczesny showed he was still alert to push away a 20-yard shot by Marc Wilson. Arsenal made sure of the three points and top spot in the Premier League when, on 72 minutes, Ozil’s deep free kick was headed back over Begovic and into the far corner by defender Sagna. With the result safe, Wilshere, who had endured plenty of tough challenges all afternoon, was given a rest, replaced by Spain defender Nacho Monreal.
Ozil was substituted himself shortly afterwards, leaving to a standing ovation, as Mikel Arteta made his first appearance of the season after a thigh injury – and on this evidence, the German playmaker will give Arsenal fans plenty more to cheer about before the medals are handed out in May.