Arsene Wenger feels Arsenal’s failure to mount a title challenge was the main reason for another sparse crowd as three late goals saw them beat relegation-threatened Stoke.
The Gunners were booed off at half-time at Emirates Stadium after seeing Aaron Ramsey clip the crossbar with their only clear chance of the first 45 minutes.
But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty broke the deadlock after a disputed foul by Bruno Martins Indi on Mesut Ozil, before the Gabon striker fired home from an Ozil corner.
Aubameyang then passed up the chance to claim a hat-trick after Badou Ndiaye’s push on substitute Alexandre Lacazette, who converted the penalty for a scoreline that flattered the Gunners.
Arsenal, who host CSKA Moscow in the Europa League next, remain 13 points outside the Premier League’s top four after Tottenham later won at Chelsea so Wenger understands why there were scores of empty seats.
“It’s just down to the fact that we’re not fighting for the championship,” he said. “People know that will not change now. They will be back on Thursday, don’t worry.
“It’s explainable by the fact that it’s Easter. It’s a family happening where people go away and it’s a fact that we don’t think about a lot in the Premier League. There’s also the fact that we had a break.”
Despite having 17 days between matches – a result of the international break and being out of the FA Cup – Arsenal looked laboured in possession before showing greater urgency after the break.
Stoke did hit the woodwork through Xherdan Shaqiri’s second-half corner but the hosts were in the ascendancy when the first penalty was awarded. However, replays showed that 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 condemned the Potters to their eighth game without a win, keeping them second from bottom and three points from safety.