LONDON Arsenal's bench is proving a potent weapon in the club's gathering Premier League title push with Saturday's 3-1 victory over Stoke City offering further evidence of the enviable options available to Arsene Wenger.
Having an effective supporting cast is vital for managers with ambitions on the title and Arsenal's Plan B has so far proved more than capable when called into action.
The win over Stoke was a case in point.
It looked like a blow when centre back Shkodran Mustafi limped off with a hamstring injury midway through a first half in which Arsenal were off the pace.
But right back Hector Bellerin replaced him in a re-shuffled back line and he produced a superb display.
The quicksilver Spaniard set up Theo Walcott's opener to cancel out Charlie Adam's penalty for Stoke and another Arsenal substitute, Alex Iwobi, sealed the points late in the second half after replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal sent on France striker Olivier Giroud late on from a bench that also contained striker Lucas, who netted a hat-trick in midweek against Basel in the Champions League.
Wenger's bench has now scored or assisted more than a third of the club's 36 Premier League goals this season, significantly more than any other club in the top flight.
"I have top quality on the bench -- there is not one player you can question on the bench today," Wenger, who made six changes to the side that started against Basel, told reporters.
Walcott, enjoying one of his most consistent seasons with seven goals already, described the current Arsenal team as the best he has ever played with.
They are unbeaten in the Premier League since the opening day of the season, have scored more goals than any other team and in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have one of the most feared attacking duos on the continent.
What is more they still have the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker, all missing with injuries on Saturday, to return.
With the fixtures coming thick and fast, starting with an away trip to Everton in midweek, Wenger says Arsenal must maintain the momentum in the weeks ahead.
"I believe that we have created confidence, I think we are ambitious -- but what is at stake is to keep urgency levels very high, humility levels very high and togetherness very high," Wenger said. "We have to show that in every single game now. Then we will see where we stand."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)