Win 2, draw 1. Win 3 lose 1. If that pattern seems familiar to you, it should. It is the story of Arsenal’s up and down season. Whether it’s the inconsistency of having a fully fit squad or just poor mentality, this season was not supposed to have gone this way.
Arsenal may not have been pegged on to win the league by some, but given the additions to the squad, few could’ve predicted the season would’ve been so “yo-yo” like. Throw in the good will from the FA Cup and Community Shield wins and most of us were buoyant that things would start to really turn around.
However, it’s been nothing short of groundhog’s day as we seem to be stuck in the cyclical merry-go-round that has been Arsenal’s season. Arsenal have always been a team with a large amount of injuries but this year it has been just pathetic or humorous (depending on your view) how many injuries we’ve endured.
Combine those injuries with the team’s indecision to bring in suitable cover at both the central defender position and defensive midfield and you can hardly be blamed if you aren’t frustrated beyond belief.
However, today marks the first time that a majority of Arsenal’s primary starts are fit. Welbeck and Arteta are within a week or so for their returns and Jack Wilshere and that guy Diaby remain Arsenal’s only long term absentees.
That means only one thing. There are no more excuses. If you take a balanced view of the Arsenal situation you’ve likely said you can understand the up and down of the season because of the injuries. However, with most of those players back, Arsenal cannot look to the physio’s room and say injuries are aiding our inconsistencies.
Arsenal have had a back and forth relationship with the visitors as well. Arsenal away to Stoke is always a dicey affair and the 3-2 drubbing in December was a fair result viven how poor we were. However, at home Arsenal have had the better of Mark Hughes’ side.
With the talent that comes back into the squad this week, there is no reason why Arsenal can’t and shouldn’t dismantle the opposition. Even with Welbeck and Wilshere sidelined, Wenger has a plethora of attacking talent to call upon. Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey are both passed fit and back. However, given their lack of match fitness, it’s likely they will only appear on the bench. Their ability though, to come off the bench and add something to the attack is something Arsenal have lacked for much of the first half of the season.
Wenger will also have to make decisions about his starting midfield three. Francis Coquelin has used his time on the pitch to great effect and is likely going to force Wenger to decide whether or not to go with two DMs in the middle or start with Coquelin or Flamini. The two DM option is certainly to be considered. Against West Ham, Wenger said he went this way, due to the opposition’s strength. However, if he only opts for the one DM, I can’t see beyond him starting with Flamini, a senior player he has shown repeated trust in, regardless of his form.
Arsenal will have to watch the wide play in this match. Stoke scored two of their goals in December from crosses out wide. The third from a corner. The difference for this match however, is that the defensive back 4 is Arsenal’s preferred 4. Debuchy in place of Bellerin in this match with his experience is going to be harder for Stoke to try and take advantage of. Koscielny will come back in for Chambers who slid alongside Mertesacker in the last match.
Mertesacker has come in for a lot of criticism and some of it is warranted but he is markedly better with Koscielny beside him. Arsenal have used 12 different combinations in its back line this season. As the preferred back four continue to play together, I can see us improving back there. Maybe not the level we all want, but as the saying goes – it certainly can’t be worse.
Stoke has played the big boys very well this season. Mark Hughes has tried to transform them from the clattering clumsy ramble they are known as to a more fluid side. The biggest change is to see them more comfortable coming out from the back with the ball. They are still a direct side and they are they are effective with it. While I suspect Arsenal at home present them a more difficult challenge then they did away, it won’t be easy.
Arsenal need to use their speed and tempo to set the match early on. Whether Wenger opts for Theo or Chamberlain out wide, Arsenal need to look to keep the ball, move it quickly and put pressure on the Stoke defense. This is where I like Theo. Theo off the ball makes excellent smart runs with Sanchez and Santi providing the creativity, you can see a many chances coming from Theo’s smart runs.
I’d like to see Oxlade Chamberlain coming from in deep. Every week his confidence and ability with the ball grows. I like him charging through the middle putting pressure on the opposition midfield and their back line.
Regardless, Arsenal have more than enough talent available to make a better show of themselves then they did versus Southampton and versus Stoke the last time out. Arsenal need to begin a run of consistency. It can’t be 2 steps forward 1 step back, repeat and repeat.
There must be impetus and purpose to this match that we haven’t seen in a long while. Arsenal need to deliver on the promise of this season or begin to reassess where we are going to end up.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Theo Walcott. Walcott featured for the first time in the FA Cup versus Hull. In that match Theo’s smartly timed runs were evident but his touch wasn’t as crisp. Still, his return to the squad gives Arsenal another weapon it has been without for far too long.
Stoke: Bojan Krkic. The once promising Barca product was the impetus for all things versus Arsenal in December. He’s been out injured but at least is set to feature on the bench (if he doesn’t start). Arsenal will need to pay attention to him.
Injuries & Suspensions:
Arsenal: Welbeck (thigh), Arteta (calf), Diaby (calf), Wilshere (ankle)
Stoke: Wilson (knee), Diouf (out – international duty)
Head to Head:
Referee: Jonathon Moss (15M 55Y 5R)
Assistant Referees: R West, A Halliday
Fourth Official: L Probert
UK: Sky Sports 1 13.30 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network 8:30 AM EST
Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke
Match Facts (courtesy Opta Sports via FourFourTwo)
- Arsenal have lost just one of their last 27 Barclays Premier League games at the Emirates (W18 D8 L1).
- Peter Crouch has scored eight Premier League goals against Arsenal; his joint-highest tally against any opponent (along with Blackburn).
- 33 points after 20 games is Arsenal’s lowest points tally in the league since 1994-95 when they finished 12th.
- Arsenal have fielded 12 different starting back four combinations in the Premier League this season.
- Mark Hughes has never won a Premier League game away at Arsenal as an opposition coach, losing all seven visits (with five different clubs).
- The Gunners have won their last 12 home games in a row against Stoke City.
- Arsenal have gone six games without a clean sheet in the Premier League.
- Only West Ham (14) have scored more headed goals than Arsenal (7), but only Burnley (11) have conceded more headed goals than the Gunners (9).
- No team has conceded more goals from set-pieces in the Barclays Premier League this season than Stoke (11, includes penalties).
- The Potters scored three goals from just four shots on target when they beat the Gunners 3-2 in early December.
What are your thoughts on this match? Can Arsenal take all 3 points at home to Stoke? Who should start? What do you think the score will be? Let us know.