Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City: Bizarro World

Once again, a match between these two sides saw the one with much of the possession fall short in the wake of a barrage of set-piece goals. Unusually, it was Arsenal whose prowess in dead-ball situations won the day against a Stoke City side struggling with their transition into something resembling a football team.

Before that though, there was plenty of intrigue to be found before a ball was kicked. Theo Walcott didn't make it through the warmup, meaning young Serge Gnabry was pressed into emergency service on the right of the attacking midfield three. Ryo Miyaichi came into the squad on the subs bench, joining prodigal son Nicklas Bendtner and the fit again Mikel Arteta.

While Stoke would eventually have a lot more of the ball, especially in the second half, it was Arsenal who raced out to the early lead. The Potters aren't entirely divested of their orc tendencies, and a silly foul was what gave us a free kick in a dangerous position. Mesut Ozil stood over it, and drilled in a beautiful low shot. Asmir Begovic did well to get across to tip it wide, but he could only divert it into the path of Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman surged past his dozing marker and tapped the rebound past Begovic.

The Gunners pinged the ball around decently in the ensuing 10-15 minutes, but Stoke defended resolutely. That may be their usual, but part of that was down to a lack of fluency on Arsenal's end. Often, that final pass would be the one to let them down. It's a story we've seen many times in the last few seasons, and it would usually end with the other mob going down the other end and putting one in our net.

Sure enough, Stoke got the equalizer that we all probably knew was coming. Kieran Gibbs was guilty of a bad giveaway, sending the visitors on the counter. Steven N'Zonzi's floated ball came in to Marko Arnautovic on the back post, who had torched Per Mertesacker for pace.  He could only fire off the post, but they got a fortuitous bounce back into the center of the area. The Arsenal defense had all risibly gone to sleep, and USA international Geoff Cameron was there to fire home. You do have to give him some credit though, Wojciech Szczesny was up quickly after the first shot, and it took a perfect strike into the bottom corner to get the rebound past him.

It may be forgotten in the aftermath of the match, but our opponents could so easily have taken the lead a minute or two later. A long ball over the top was met with a poor touch by Kenwyne Jones - it was tough in fairness, but if he had corralled that he would have been in on goal. The miscue allowed Mertesacker to get it away, though.

This isn't your older brother's Arsenal team though, and they got right back to the business of getting the goal back. Isn't it funny how much more dangerous we are on corners and free kicks when Ozil is taking them instead of Walcott? A warning shot was fired when Mertesacker had a header from a corner cleared desperately off the line by Cameron, but it wouldn't be too much longer until Begovic was picking the ball out of his net again.

Yet another silly foul led to a free kick, which was cleared out for a corner. Ozil fired it in again, and again Mert got on the end of it. This was more of a glancing connection though, and it looped into the air and into the far corner. Laurent Koscielny was making a far-post run, and in doing so did well to legally block off Begovic from getting over there. Fantastic set-piece play all around, and it got us into halftime with the lead.

Stoke did give it more of a go in the second half, and oddly had a lot more of the ball than we did. Arsenal seemed content to sit back a bit, absorb pressure, and catch them out on the break. I honestly can't say if this was a conscious decision based on our disjointed-at-times play or if we got a bit nervous, but thankfully the Potters rarely did much with it when they had it.

Still, only the excellence of Begovic kept us from wrapping things up a lot sooner. An excellent run by Gnabry saw him get leveled by that mutant Robert Huth as he passed it out to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman reared back and hit the hell out of it, but Begovic got up to get a hand on it.

From there, the match settled back into its now-familiar patterns - Stoke probing away at the edges of our penalty area without ever threatening, while Arsenal countered every so often but could only get shots away from distance.

Read that previous paragraph again - when was the last time that happened in an Arsenal match? Was Dennis Bergkamp signed yet?

The third goal did come though, once again on a set piece. This time, Jack Wilshere was the catalyst with a driving run through the middle of the field. Two Stoke orcs plowed into him, giving us a free kick. Once again, Ozil's delivery was perfect. Once again, an Arsenal man got on the end of it. This time, Bacary Sagna was that man, and his header was a lot like the BFG's. The result was similar as well, the ball looping over Begovic and in.

That well and truly knocked what wind was left out of Stoke's sails,and we saw out the game with no further incident. Nacho Monreal and Miyaichi got run-outs, as did Arteta late on. It was quite nice to have a drama-free finish, and it is nice to once again be top of the league. Especially after the Aston Villa match, you can't complain with where we are right now.

Side note:  I will miss the next three weeks of matches - I am off to Eastern Europe on vacation. There should be some combination of pinch-hitters to cover while I'm out. So, have a great month one and all, and keep checking back here after matches to read our guest stars!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Ramsey 7, Flamini 7, Wilshere 8 (Monreal 7), Ozil 8 (Arteta N/A), Gnabry 7 (Miyaichi 7), Giroud 7

Man of the Match: 2 matches, 4 assists. Good god.  Mesut Ozil!