It’s December, and the fixtures are beginning to pile up. Arsenal have another 3 matches within the next week and a day before they get an 8 day rest. They will mark that date on the calendar but before then there is the issue of a trip to Stoke to continue this early December congestion.
Due to the early season wobbles and lack of sustained success, the trip the Britannia, is one they need to win in order to maintain their pace with the top of the table. But as we all know it won’t be easy.
Regardless of whether the team is led by someone named Pulis or Hughes, the opposition have been a constant thorn in Arsenal’s side. Never moreso when the match is played away to Stoke. Stoke have only lost to Arsenal once in the last 8 home matches to Arsenal winning 4 and drawing 3 with the single loss sticking out.
The tactics are well known. Hughes will have his players look to get physical with Arsenal in the hope to get take the Gunners off their game. This was similar to some of what Southampton tried to do – to an extent. The outcome was that Southampton saw their players taken off with injuries while Arsenal were relatively unscathed.
And while Hughes’ draconian tactics are aptly used at Stoke, they’ve also managed to add possession and passing to their game. Against United, Stoke admirably tried to bring play from deep and pass through the United midfield. Unfortunately for Stoke the passing was off or they may have created more.
We can likely expect a lot of pressure with some slightly late tackles in an effort to win the ball back and create chances on the counter. The physicality of it all a little more intense than we’ve so far this season.
For our part Arsenal need to remain patient and control the ball. Smart passing in the face of the pressure is the key to winning this game. With Southampton pressing early on in the message, Arsenal used the keeper as a frequent outlet to alleviate the pressure. It frequently opened up space between Southampton’s midfield and back four which allowed Arsenal to operate around the pressure and get chances around the box.
The big worry isn’t so much that we’ll own the possession stats, the biggest worry is whether or not our talisman, Alexis Sanchez is on the verge of “red lining.” In his pre-game presser the boss confirmed that Sanchez who has been stellar this season is nearing worrying levels of physical fatigue.
Ideally, you’d like to see Wenger give him a spell on the subs bench but I think it more likely that won’t happen till the midweek Gala match. So all toes and fingers will be crossed that the man who has been Arsenal’s work horse doesn’t max out this Saturday and get a much deserved rest in the middle of the week.
Wenger also noted the Monreal is definitely out and was inconclusive as to whether or not Kieran Gibbs would be fit for the match. Gibbs is recovering from a slight hip injury picked up against West Brom but was on the substitutes’ bench for the Southampton tie.
The other big question mark is who does Wenger line up with in attack. Against Southampton he turned to the speed of Welbeck, Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain. This was done to counter Southampton’s speed on the flanks. Stoke aren’t particularly speedy (at least by Southampton standards) and strength will be the name of the game. This is why I’d like to see Giroud up top with Welbeck and Sanchez out wide or a variation similar to that.
As has been discussed, Giroud altered the game against Southampton with his arrival and his presence placed a lot of pressure on Southampton’s defense. Given the physical part of his game and that he is not easily muscled away, I’d like to see us go with that brawn to counter the opponents brawn.
Arsenal have yet to string 3 league wins in a row this season. Stoke have yet to lose 4 in a row (they’ve lost 3 in a row so far.) Additionally, there is no love lost between the two organizations. Ryan Shawcross, (not that type of player) jumped in on the war of the words saying how hostile the Britannia would be. We can’t be too concerned with that. In fact the easiest way to defeat that would be to score early (repeatedly would be nice too.)
While matches against Stoke are always “cagey” affairs, I think Arsenal have finally turned the corner on the season. While it won’t be easy and will likely test our patience, the sure foundation of our defensive solidity and our patient attack should be enough to see off the home side.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey. He’s shooting boots are still missing but he still accomplishes the little things, which weren’t there for most of the early season. How fitting would it be to see him break his skid with a goal against Stoke whilst megging Shawcross?
Stoke. Bojan Krkic. Once heralded as a future Barca star, the young man was sent out repeatedly on loan and finds himself a rose amongst the thorns.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Arteta (calf), Monreal (knee), Wilshere (ankle), Ospina (thigh), Özil (knee), Walcott (groin) Szczesny (fitness) Debuchy (fitness)
Stoke: Huth (thigh), Moses (thigh), Odemwingie (knee), Sidwell (knee), Teixiera (calf)
Head to Head:
Referee: Anthony Taylor (11M 43Y 0R)
Assistant Referees: J Collin, I Hussin
Fourth Official: R East
UK: BBC MOTD Highlights
US: NBC Sports Extra 10:00 AM EST
Arsenal 2 – 1 Stoke
Match Facts (courtesy FourFourTwo)
- Stoke have only lost one of their last eight home games against Arsenal in all competitions (W4 D3 L1).
- Arsenal’s only previous Premier League away victory at the Britannia came back in February 2010 (3-1). They’ve lost two and drawn two since.
- Peter Crouch has scored seven goals against Arsenal, only against Blackburn (8) has he netted more in the Premier League.
- The Potters have lost their last three Premier League matches in December having previously gone unbeaten in 12 during the last month of the year (W4 D8).
- Alexis Sanchez has now scored three match-winning goals in the Premier League this season; only Diego Costa (4) has more.
- Sanchez has scored 14 times in all competitions for Arsenal; only Sergio Aguero (19) has more in all comps.
- Stoke have lost their last three Premier League games. They have not lost four in a row since February 2012.
- Arsenal’s last five clean sheets have coincided with their last five Premier League wins.
- Arsenal have scored seven goals in the final five minutes of Premier League games in 2014-15; more than any other side.
- Mark Hughes is unbeaten in his last six Premier League home games as a manager versus Arsenal (W4 D2).
What are your thoughts on this match? Can Arsenal continue to move on and make something of this season? Who should start? What do you think the score will be? Let us know.