Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger unhappy with poor first-half vs. Stoke
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger admitted his Arsenal team "lacked urgency, pace and drive" against Stoke on Sunday before a late scoring spurt helped secure a 3-0 win over Stoke City.
Arsenal were booed off at half-time after a lacklustre opening 45 minutes, in which they only created one half chance, but kicked into gear after they were awarded a penalty in the 75th minute when Mesut Ozil was adjudged to have been fouled in the box.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted the spot kick and added a second goal in the 86th minute, before substitute Alexandre Lacazette marked his injury comeback by scoring another penalty three minutes later.
Even Wenger, though, acknowledged that the final scoreline didn't really reflect the quality of the performance.
"Stoke played well. And secondly we didn't play well in the first half, at all. We lacked urgency, pace and drive," Wenger told a news conference. "In the second half we rectified that. As much as I felt in the first half we could lose this game, in the second half I always felt we will win this game. That is the difference basically of the attitude of the team. That explains 0-0 at half-time and 3-0 after the game."
The introduction of Lacazette seemed to spark Arsenal's attack into life, with the France striker making his return from a minor knee operation in February. Lacazette had already lost his starting spot to January signing Aubameyang, but Wenger said this performance showed they can work as a partnership.
"Yes I think they can play together," said Wenger, who moved Aubameyang out wide when Lacazette came on. "Aubameyang has played a long part of his career on the left, at Saint-Etienne. And the first two years when [Robert] Lewandowski was at Borussia Dortmund he played on the left. And after, when Lewandowski moved to Bayern Munich, he played centrally."
Lacazette earned the second penalty when he was bundled over in the box and immediately grabbed the ball and walked toward the penalty spot, despite first-choice penalty taker Aubameyang being on a hat trick. The Gabon international didn't argue and Lacazette calmly sent Jack Butland the wrong way for his first goal since Jan. 20 -- and only his second since Dec. 2.
Aubameyang, who became the first Arsenal player to score five goals in his first six Premier League games, told Sky Sports he was happy to let Lacazette take the penalty.
"Of course I know that Laca is back, and I scored twice, so it's normal. I think it's good for his confidence. That's why," Aubameyang said.
Wenger also praised the striker's unselfishness.
"That shows well the state of our society. Because when people are generous they are surprised. And when it's strikers even more so," Wenger said. "No [I wasn't surprised], because I know they have a good understanding.
"I like that, because it can only make the team stronger. And Lacazette came back from a long injury. I think it's great. Would you have done it? I'm not sure."
Once again there were thousands of empty seats at the Emirates, which was only about two-thirds full for the match -- continuing a recent trend in the Premier League, where Arsenal are languishing in sixth place and have no realistic chance of making the top four.
Wenger, though, insisted that more fans will show up for Thursday's Europa League quarterfinal against CSKA Moscow, a competition that is now Arsenal's only hope of salvaging a disappointing season.
"They will be back on Thursday, don't worry," Wenger said. "It's explainable by the fact that it's Easter, it's a family happening when people go away. It's the fact that we don't go for a lot in people's mind in the Premier League.
"Overall in the Premier League in the last two, three weeks we faced that problem. It's just down to the fact that we don't fight for the championship and people know that now that will not change."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.