First, let me apologize for the lateness in the release of this match preview. As it is, this is the match preview that almost wasn’t. For the past 48 hours I’ve been dealing with a computer that kept spitting out BSOD warnings every time I started it up. Finally it died and forced me last night to go get new box and as of a few hours ago I got all my software installed and could finally get started on what really matters – preparing for the Premier League tie between Arsenal and Rugby FC, aka Stoke City.
Actually calling Stoke Rugby FC is a diservice to rugby clubs that at least they have talent. Allright enough of the Stoke bashing. In fairness, having watched them a couple of times, it looks like at least so far, that Tony Pulis is trying to actually get his side to play football. And the Tottenham Wannabes (what else do you call a club with Palacios, Woodgate and Crouch) do look they at least are trying to play football rather than slug it out on the pitch.
The Stoke tie is in my opinion a fair test to see if Arsenal have indeed turned the ship around or has it all been a false spring due to the level of competition they have played. Arsenal have won 5 of their last 6 matches in all competitions. So either things have settled or well, – you know. Taking a win against Stoke would signal to me that the turn around is in fact a reality and that things have moved in a positive direction. Additionally, a win would put Arsenal in a position in the table of no less than 7th and within 6 points of 4th – a very manageable feat.
The winning run hasn’t come easily. They’ve been drawn out, almost boring affiars. But they’ve been wins and as I’ve said before if this is how we win from now on, as long as it means a win, I am okay with it. 1-0 or 2-1 wins mean something to me, – we can win and we defecively are improving. Something, I think is happening albeit slowly. The pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny looks sound and will likely stay as such when Vermaelen comes back. Having three solid CBs is a luxury I’d like us to have. With Sagna out long-term and questions still about Jenkinson, seeing Koscielny in the RB position when Vermaelen comes back isn’t out of the realm of possibilities and isn’t as worrying to me as having the likes of Djourou in at RB. Finally, a defence that was vilified (and rightly so) coming out of Old Trafford has only conceded 5 goals in 6 games – a telltale sign that the back four is in fact improving.
Our attack is what it is and frankly we are still creating chances. The problem comes with creatively creating chances that turn into sure fire goal attempts. Having Theo and Andrei Arshavin step up and actually contribute more would be a great benefit to the attack. Thomas Rosicky looks like he has finally remembered he can play this game. He has shown over the course of the last few games that he may be deserving of the boss’s decision to keep him. If he finds the back of the net and some of his creativity he definitely will help this club continue its upward swing.
I’m still up in the air about Aaron Ramsey. Sure he scored the winning goal to move Arsenal top of its Champion’s League group, but for most of the season he has just seemed like a bystander on the pitch without much to offer. It may be a little harsh but that’s the way I see it. Ramsey needs to seriously begin to step up or risk developing an Eduardo style reputation post injury.
This is a winnable match for the Gunners. For one, Stoke have had a difficult time coming off of Europa Cup fixtures. They’ve played well on the European stage but in the EPL matches that followed they’ve lost 4-0 to Sunderland and 2-0 to Swansea. Considering their rough patch versus Arsenal at the Emirates – three losses in their last three visits to the stadium, the table does look set for the Gunners. But we can not be too optimistic. While the ship does seem to have righted itself, this will be a tie that certainly tests that turnaround. In the end, as hard as matches against Stoke have been, Arsenal certainly have the class and firepower within their ranks to dispatch Tony Pulis’ Tottenham lite.
How the Match Should Play Out:
Goals have proved hard to come by in the first half for both clubs but more so for Stoke who only have one first half goal in the whole season, a PK versus Liverpool. Arsenal will look to get the home crowd riled up early, especially against Stoke. So look for Arsenal to press matters early. Looking to see how Stoke’s competitive legs are early on. Pulis hasn’t been on to park the bus lately, but his team still rely on physicality so while I expect more room for the Gunners to ply their trade it is going to be space that is hard to come by. With Robin Van Persie showing what he can do when he is health, I expect the Gunners to score early. If Theo or Andrei start, and they can perform up to their potential and skill level, then Arsenal could jump to a 2 point lead in the first half., Additionally, if Per Mertesacker can handle Wayne Rooney for Germany, he can certainly handle Peter Crouch for his new club team.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Per Mertesacker. They call him slow. I call him deliberate. Regardless of your opinion, he is starting to put in consistent performances in the back line, something that is only good for the Gunners. He doesn’t seem has frantic out there as he did when he first arrived. The perfect antidote to a Rory Delap long throw into the box.
Stoke. Peter Crouch. Big man versus big man. The question is which one can come out on top. Crouch left for Stoke to get more playing time. He’s getting it. The question is what is doing with it when he gets it?
Projected Starting XI:
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Vermaelen (ankle), Wilshere (ankle), Sagna (ankle) Gibbs (stomach), Jenkinson (knee) Diaby (match fitness)
Stoke: Higginbotham (knee), Pennant (hamstring), Sidibe (match fitness), Fuller (achilles,)
Arsenal: Van Persie 8 (5 league)
Stoke: Walters 2 (2 league)
Last Meeting (EPL):
Arsenal (home): 1.5
Stoke (away): 0.5
Arsenal (home): 0.8
Stoke: (away): 1.8
Referee: Lee Mason (Matches 4, R0 Y21)
US: Foxsoccer.tv 0830 AM EST
UK: ????? 1330 BST
GAMEDAY CHAT: It’s Open!!!!!!