It’s been a pretty quiet week without any substantial news or going’s on around the club at the moment. It’s likely the effect of our resounding win last week and United’s continued trip down Misery Lane gobbling up all the headlines.
The thing about writing match previews is that in one sense they all sort of sound alike. Look at any 10 Arsenal blogs and it’s likely they will pretty much be saying the same thing – just with their own individual flair to it. What’s the saying about monkeys at typewriters?
As I set out to write my preview, I really wondered what I would focus in on. For the most part we are a relatively healthy squad – save for the issue of our LBs both having knocks and missing two premier studs in Walcott and Ramsey – though Rambo is on his way back.
It didn’t take me long to figure out though what I wanted to focus in on. It’s a similar theme that seemed to come through week in and week out when pundits wrote about Arsenal. Each week, they continually insinuated that “this is the week that Arsenal stumble.” Each week were supposed to wait for Arsenal’s fall from grace.
For instance take John Cross’s piece for ESPNFC, where he opines that Stoke is hardly the match that Mesut Özil would prefer to find his mojo again. It ignores the fact that Özil has already played against this same Stoke side and had a hand in all three of the Arsenal goals that were scored that day. In fact Özil’s performance against Mark Hughes’ side was so emphatic that he left the pitch to a rousing standing-o.
As a blogger I get the need sometimes to try and really look at a match objectively and try and assess what the teams will do. Obviously, this blog and others have our pro-Arsenal slant to things but speaking for myself, if I see an area to criticize on, I’ll point it out.
The fact the pundits ignore is that even after thunderous losses to City and Liverpool, Arsenal are still very much in the title hunt. They are a point off Chelsea and only City’s game-in-hand really pose a threat to our staying there.
All season long when this squad has been called upon to answer the critics it has. At this point it’s fair to say that the ol’ adages of the past – like the perceived softness of the Arsenal squad – are gone. Pundits will point out that City walked out with scoring only 1 goal against Stoke last week. They forget that in the fall every time Arsenal came up against a “smaller” team who had done the big boys in, Arsenal handedly managed them.
There are still games to play in this season and the big ones that come in march will define this season. However, Arsenal deserve the respect for even the run they’ve been on up until now. They are still a model of consistency. They have the heart for the job and it has to be combined with the aptitude for it.
I know I will never see this squad, the manager and more importantly the fans get the credit they deserve. That’s okay. Should Arsenal manage to keep doing what it’s done all season, the ending is going to be pretty sweet and we – Gunners’ faithful will have one resounding laugh at those who doubted.
Stoke possess a challenge of course. Mark Hughes has always had a way of getting under Wenger’s skin. There is no love lost between the two and well there is no love lost between the two groups of supporters.
Arsenal come back as we said earlier with a relatively fresh squad. Both from an injury perspective and the fact that Wenger broke his traditions and let the squad have two days off after the Sunderland match. Özil is back officially from “dead leg” and will likely feature. The midfield is sans Ramsey and Walcott. But it’s chock full of options with about 6 or 7 players the manager can call on to fill out the squad.
Personally, I think Wenger will give Arteta a match off and give this one to Flamini, whose grit this match is tailor made for. I could see Wilshere sitting alongside him getting more forward but also adding some grit and grist to counter the likes of Charlie Adam. If Özil comes right back in, it’s likely Cazorla goes out wide left and if Rosicky stays in, he’ll push out wide right.
Giroud who netted twice last week, looked refreshed and he’ll start. The good news is that Yaya Sanogo has showed enough that even if he doesn’t offer an extreme difference to Giroud, he can cause the Stoke back line some issues if GQGiroud’s legs get weary.
Why do I mention this all when the projected line ups are below? For no other reason that I hope maybe one pundit reads it (yeah I live in a fantasy world) and suddenly realizes that this team is chock full of talent and shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.
Look we know it will be tough. In the end talent wins out and we have too much of that and class and while I don’t think it will be an easy match, Arsenal have consistently shown that they know how to take care of business. In the end they do it again and keep the pressure going at the top.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Kallstrom (back), Ramsey (thigh), Walcott (knee) Diaby (knee) Gibbs (Test – gluteus), Monreal (Test- ankle)
Stoke: Huth (match fitness), Assaidi (knee), Odemwingie (test – calf), Walters (test – illness).
Referee: Michael Jones (Matches: 15. R2 Y45 PK 2)
Assistants: Scholes, Holmes
Fourth Official: Taylor
Head to Head:
US: NBC Sports Extra – 10:00 AM EST
UK: BBC 1 MOTD (highlights only)
Arsenal 2 – 1 Stoke
Match Facts (courtesy FourFourTwo)
- Peter Crouch has scored seven Barclays Premier League goals against the Gunners; only against Blackburn (8) has he been more prolific.
- Arsenal have only scored in the first half of three of their last 13 Barclays Premier League matches.
- Stoke have had both teams scoring in their last six home matches
- Arsenal have won seven and lost just one of the last 10 Barclays Premier League games against Stoke City, but won none of the last three trips to the Britannia Stadium (W0 D2 L1).
- Peter Crouch has scored four goals his last six Premier League appearances at the Britannia Stadium.
- Stoke have been level at half-time in their last six home matches against top-six teams
- Only five teams in the Premier League have taken more points on home soil than Stoke have at the Britannia this season (21).
- Only Tottenham (29) have earned more points away from home than Arsenal (26) this season.
- Arsenal have had loss/loss results in their last seven away defeats
- Stoke have scored the joint-fewest headed goals this season (2) while only Liverpool (11) have netted more headers than Arsenal (10).
- Olivier Giroud has scored the opening goal of a game more often than any other player in the Premier League this season (7).
- Stoke have lost by one goal to nil in their last three defeats
- Arsenal have hit the target with 55.3% of their shots, a divisional high shooting accuracy.
- The Potters have committed more fouls than any other team in the Premier League (360) and picked up the most cards (58 yellows and three reds).