Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late double set Arsenal on course for victory over relegation-threatened Stoke at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners were booed off at half-time by another sparse and subdued home crowd after seeing Aaron Ramsey clip the crossbar with their only clear chance of the first 45 minutes.
Arsenal showed greater urgency after the break, although Stoke struck the woodwork through a Xherdan Shaqiri corner before the hosts were awarded a disputed penalty for a foul by Bruno Martins Indi on Mesut Ozil.
Aubameyang converted the spot-kick before firing home from an Ozil corner. And the Gabon striker passed up the chance to claim a hat-trick when Arsenal were awarded another penalty late on.
Badou Ndiaye pushed Alexandre Lacazette in the box and the Arsenal substitute converted to round off a scoreline which flattered the Gunners.
Despite having 17 days between matches – a result of the international break and being out of the FA Cup – Arsenal looked laboured in possession and had only just got into the ascendancy when the first penalty was awarded.
Replays showed that Arsene Wenger’s men were perhaps fortunate as Martins Indi appeared to get his left foot to the ball before catching Ozil from behind.
Ndiaye then fired narrowly wide for Stoke before Arsenal clinched a fourth straight victory with the two late goals.
They remain sixth in the Premier League table, five points adrift of Chelsea, in fifth, and 10 behind fourth-placed Tottenham before the London rivals faced each other (16:00 BST).
Despite starting on the front foot, Stoke stay second from bottom, three points from safety, after their eighth game without a win.
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dedicated his goals to his late grandmother, Marina, whose name he had dyed in his hair
Petr Cech and Granit Xhaka had been ever-presents in the Premier League but they lost their record as Wenger left them out of the starting line-up. Laurent Koscielny was also left on the bench as he is nursing an Achilles problem.
The Arsenal manager was perhaps trying to keep them fresh for Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final first-leg meeting with CSKA Moscow.
Their European campaign has taken on huge significance for Wenger and the club, at a time when many supporters have been calling for change. There were again scores of empty seats at Emirates Stadium as disillusioned fans continue to stay away.
Arsenal look certain to miss out on a top-four finish, so it seems their only way of qualifying for next season’s Champions League is to win the Europa League. Wenger may also need to win it to convince the Arsenal board to keep him in charge.
The team he fielded against Stoke played like a side with their eyes on a bigger prize. They were sloppy and sluggish early on, and it was not until the 23rd minute that they got behind the Stoke defence for the first time.
Hector Bellerin’s low cross was deflected into the path of Ramsey, whose deft volley went behind off the bar. Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny then saw shots deflected wide.
Danny Welbeck fired wide as Arsenal improved in the second half. Elneny’s shot was then blocked, with Nacho Monreal’s follow-up saved by Jack Butland, but the Gunners breathed a sigh of relief as Shaqiri’s inswinging corner came back off the far post with David Ospina beaten.
The ruthless nature in which the home side finished the game will encourage Wenger before the European clash, though. Butland had to deny Aubameyang and Calum Chambers before their late goal burst.
Jack Wilshere’s presence, after being forced to withdraw from international duty, was a positive for both Wenger and England manager Gareth Southgate ahead of the World Cup.
‘The ref needs to watch it again’ – Stoke’s penalty rage
Stoke had frustrated Arsenal for long periods before the penalty was given and the visitors had complaints about the decision.
Manager Paul Lambert said: “I thought we were excellent and looked really good but Arsenal got the penalty. It was a game changer.
“I saw Craig Pawson after the game. I respect the referee but he has not got the benefit of television. He explained they only have one major angle to have a look at it.
“Do I have sympathy with the referee? I don’t know. It was harsh on us because I thought we were great. I’ve been here a few times and won, but we haven’t played as well as that.
Defender Bruno Martins Indi said: “It was not a challenge. I touched the ball and it was not a penalty. The referee had a different view or something and gave it.
“I could not believe it. It cost us because we played very well. It killed the moment. I’ve seen it back; I think the referee’s angle was not good enough.
“He said that I stretched my leg and I made a foul. He needs to watch it again.
“Mesut Ozil is of course going to say it’s a penalty – if I was in his position I would say the same. It was no penalty and the cameras don’t lie.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: “I will have to look at it again. I don’t know. From outside it looked like it was a penalty.”
Xherdan Shaqiri delivered nine crosses for Stoke, more than the rest of the team combined
The Potters have won just one of their 10 games under Paul Lambert, who has been trying to stamp his authority on the squad he inherited from Mark Hughes.
Erik Pieters returned after being left out of the defeat by Everton for breaking a curfew while this week Ibrahim Afellay was told to stay away from the club.
Lambert said Stoke would try to win at Arsenal and they certainly started with that intent. Rather than leaving Mame Biram Diouf as a lone striker, Shaqiri and Ramadan Sobhi were up in support.
Shaqiri curled an early effort just wide of the top corner and, partly due to Stoke’s urgency, Arsenal frequently gave the ball away in dangerous positions.
But they failed to create any more clear-cut chances in the first half and, before Shaqiri’s corner almost caught out Ospina, the best they mustered in the second was a tame curling effort by the Switzerland forward which was straight at the home keeper.
Lambert’s no-nonsense stance looks as if it will have long-term benefits, and he had no complaints about the effort of his players. But Stoke need immediate results and, in the short term, they seem to be over-reliant upon Shaqiri.
The suspended Charlie Adam said before the game that three wins from their final seven games would be enough to clinch survival.
They now have just six left but, as Adam said, they still have to play West Ham, Crystal Palace and Swansea. This result makes those games even more important.