Saturday turned out to be a very good day for Arsenal.
While the team won its match against Stoke City, 1-0, off a Lukas Podolski set piece, Everton drew and Chelsea lost. With those results, the Gunners are now just a point behind Everton for fifth place and five points behind third-place Chelsea.
Arsenal largely dominated the first half, holding 62 percent of the possession and earning the majority of the dangerous chances.
The Gunners came out absolutely buzzing and created quite a few chances in the first 10 minutes, but Stoke City calmed the game down and slowed the pace. Still, Arsenal would eventually regain momentum and press Stoke City toward the end of the first half.
Twice, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was turned away with golden scoring chances by keeper Asmir Begovic. Theo Walcott was bright down the right side for Arsenal, continuing his excellent form of late—though he couldn't find the netting in the first frame.
Arsenal would keep up that pressure in the second half, though the Stoke City defense would hold firm.
Desperate to earn the three points, Arsene Wenger would bring Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski in the game, subbing out Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby in the 68th minute.
It would prove to be a stroke of genius. After Walcott was fouled on the edge of the box, Podolski would take the free kick and send his effort into the goal off a deflection from a Stoke player. The referees debated calling offside before awarding the goal and Arsenal finally had its lead in the 78th minute.
Cazorla would nearly double the lead just a few moments later, but Begovic would brilliantly keep the Spanish midfielder's effort from finding the top corner of the net.
While Stoke City would try to press forward down the stretch, the team never seriously threatened the Gunners. This was Arsenal's day.
Players of the Match
Theo Walcott, Arsenal: A-
In a word, Walcott has been brilliant for Arsenal this season and that didn't change on Saturday. For much of the match, he was the most dangerous Gunner, challenging the Stoke City defense with his pace down the right side, ripping shots and setting up opportunities for his teammates.
When he is on the pitch, the Gunners have a different, more threatening look about them. He set up the game-winning goal and once again was the most dangerous Arsenal player on this afternoon.
Asmir Begovic, Stoke City: A-
Were it not for Stoke City's keeper, Arsenal could have easily scored two or even three more goals in this game. Begovic was a stud, keeping Oxlade-Chamberlain from scoring twice and majestically keeping Cazorla from tallying a goal as well.
Stoke City came in knowing it would need to play stout defense and hope to strike on the counter-attack if it hoped to earn three points. For most of the match, however, Arsenal dominated possession and a simple draw seemed a more realistic goal.
Give Begovic credit for keeping this match closer than it actually was.
Lukas Podolski, Arsenal: A
He who scores the goal gets the highest grade. That's how important this game was for Arsenal.
Podolski has proven to be a nice addition this season and he boasts a dangerous left foot when it comes to taking free kicks. While he was a bit lucky on his goal—both to get a deflection and that the referees decided against calling offside—Podolski did his job as a substitute.
Give Wenger credit here—he knew Arsenal absolutely needed three points, so he brought on Cazorla and Podolski and was rewarded justly.