Easter generosity pleases Arsene Wenger

How many top strikers would pass up the chance of a hat-trick so a man who might end up taking their place could get a goal?

Easter generosity pleases Arsene Wenger

And how many would mark the passing of a grandmother by having her name dyed on to the side of their heads?

The answer to both questions is at least one and his name is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabon striker had netted both of the Gunners’ opening goals and, as designated penalty-taker, was expected to try to claim the match ball when substitute Alexandre Lacazette won a second spot-kick a minute before time.

Instead, he let Lacazette despatch it past Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland, for a morale-boosting goal on the Frenchman’s return from injury.

“I had scored twice already so I knew it would be good for his confidence,” the January signing from Borussia Dortmund explained before going on to tackle the appearance of the word ‘Marina’ on his barnet. “It is my grandmother’s name,” he said. “She passed away last week so this is my dedication to her.”

“That shows the state of our society — that when people are generous they are surprised,” said Gunners boss Arsene Wenger about Lacazette’s unexpected Easter gift. “Even more when it is footballers — and when it is strikers even more.

“I wasn’t surprised because I know they have a good understanding. I like that because it can only make the team stronger. I think it’s great.”

Stoke boss Paul Lambert was convinced that the decision to award the first penalty was not great at all, and told referee Craig Pawson afterwards.

Bruno Martins Indi was the perceived transgressor for a tackle on Mesut Ozil that TV replays indicated had contained enough contact on the ball to be passed fit for consumption by the VAR checking system, had that been in operation.

“It was a game-changer,” the Scot said. “I respect referees but for the big moments in big games you have to get it 100% right.

“I know we have the benefit of replays and Craig doesn’t but for the big moments you have to be so precise.

“I’ve seen VAR work in Germany. It worked seamlessly, absolutely no problem at all.

“We bring it over here and it seems to be confusing but for this sort of incident? Absolutely. The referees need help for the big calls.”

The Potters collapsed the moment Aubameyang sent Jack Butland the wrong way from the spot in the 75th minute. They failed to pick him up in the box for a simple second and when Badou Ndiaye barged Lacazette over a minute before the end the game was over anyway.

The result left Arsenal in sixth and able to concentrate on Thursday’s Europa League first leg clash with CSKA Moscow, and Stoke still stuck in second from bottom spot.

Only Xherdan Shaqiri seemed to believe an upset was possible, curling an early effort just wide and then seeing a second-half corner catch out keeper David Ospina but bounce back off the far post.

Lambert remained bullish afterwards however. “I’m 100% confident we will stay up,” he said.

“I thought that when I came in and nothing has changed my mind.”

Wenger certainly had, at the break, with his Gallic voice still croaky following throat problems in the run-up.

“We didn’t play well in the first-half at all. We lacked urgency, pace and drive

“That explains 0-0 at half-time and 3-0 at the end of the game.”

As usual, Arsenal declared the attendance to be over the 59,000 mark. But, as usual, the visibility of plenty of empty seats suggested otherwise - and for once Wenger wasn’t prepared to say that he ‘didn’t see it’.

“They will be back on Thursday, don’t worry,” he said. “It’s explainable by the fact it’s Easter, when people are away.”

ARSENAL (4-3-3):

Ospina 6; Bellerin 7, Chambers 7, Mustafi 9, Monreal 7; Elneny 5 (Xhaka 75), Wilshere 6 (Mkhitaryan 75), Ramsey 6; Ozil 6, Welbeck 5 (Lacazette 61, 7), Aubameyang 7.

Booked:

Elneny Goals: Aubameyang (75 pen, 86), Lacazette (89, pen)

STOKE CITY (4-3-3):

Butland 5; Johnson 6, Shawcross 6, Martins Indi 6, Pieters 7; Bauer 6, Ndiaye 6, Allen 6; Sobhi 6 (Crouch 80), Diouf 6 (Berahino 61, 5), Shaqiri 7.

Booked:

Johnson, Allen

Referee:

C Pawson (South Yorkshire)

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