Match Preview: Arsenal v Stoke City; Premier League Match Day 5

September 21, 2013

“What we have learnt in the last two years, all of us, is that every single game is a battle where you need to be at your best if you want to win it.” – Arsene Wenger from his pre-match press conference.

With that it’s all you need to know about the effort that arsenal need to put forth this weekend versus a revitalized Stoke City.

Stoke may seem a little unrecognizable to everyone when they come in. They are no longer the purely “Neanderthal” team that played under Tony Pulis.  They are playing more of an open style under new Boss Mark Hughes without abandoning any of the team’s core strengths.

Arsenal should expect a team up for the challenge of playing with them and playing them tightly as Mark Hughes will want them to. If Arsenal are going to maintain the momentum they’ve gained since the opening day debacle against Aston Villa, they will need to keep in mind Wenger’s comments and the opponent they playing. It will be a battle.

Stoke gave as good as they got against Manchester City last weekend. They were probably unlucky to actually not come away from the match with all 3 points. In watching the match they were better than their opponents for long swathes of the match. Arsenal will need to realize that this Stoke won’t look to exclusively “beat the pulp” out of Arsenal. They will look to play.

And on one level that may benefit Arsenal. Arsenal are at their fluid best when they face an opponent that wants to “play.” Where fits come in is when a team decides to not only park the bus but focus solely on harsh, over the top play.

Sure the Premier League is a rough league but the style of Tony Pulis’ Stoke was one of a bygone era and frankly Stoke were only playing to stay up and not playing to win. Now they clearly are playing to win and the Arsenal defense, which is often criticized for being porous will need to continue to prove that they are a defense, just as good as any of the teams that are often cited as being “best of the league.” (Funny thing is that this maligned defense was second in the league last year and Aston Villa aside averages letting in less than half a game in this early season.)

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are talking about them being legitimate threats to the title race. If that’s so then that challenge has to come from the back and it also means they have to perform at home like they do on the road.

Arsenal’s 10th away win is an impressive run that extends back to their 2-0 win against Bayern Munich in March last year. It started an impressive run of 18 games with 15W 2D 1L. And while I always shrug at combining stats and records from the previous season, it’s hard to deny that it looks like the club have picked up exactly where they left off last season.

With the run of last season and the start to this season combined they are the most consistent team in the league. While we look at Wenger’s decision to run with a light squad with confusion; it seems it’s a calculated risk to preserve team unity and the continuity from last season. Without any major subtractions and minor additions (though Özil is hardly minor) the possibility of challenging for a title increases with every performance.

And a performance will be needed. If the squad do truly grasp the fact that every match is a battle then that mentality needs to continue and it needs to make home a fortress. You can’t mount a title run (whether you fall short or not) by being “okay” at home. You must be exceptional at home. The performance against Tottenham stands out as a perfect example. People want to cite the last 5 minutes or so as a team struggling to hold on.

While I try to keep a realistic, level head on things, the one thing I noticed is that Arsenal hardly ever seemed frantic in that closing minutes. Spurs had poured everything on to get that last minute point. Arsenal worked relentlessly with focus to keep the ball out of the net.

Why is this important? Because it’s that kind of focus that has continue throughout and has to be part of this match this weekend. Arsenal must focus on taking the match to Stoke and force them to realize while they may have “upped their game,” Arsenal are taking it to a whole different level.

The hope then becomes that a foundation is fortified and people start to realize this squad is for real. Sure it’s Stoke and by all accounts it should be an Arsenal win regardless of the ambitions or status of the club. But with all the focus on Chelsea foundering under Mourinho, United and City still trying to find their ways under their new managers, it’s a perfect time for Arsenal to continue to force everyone to accept that Arsenal are a team in the ascendancy.

Arsenal remind me of the fictitious version of the Cleveland Indians in the movie Major League. After years of futile performances and an owner threatening to move the club, the only thing the team realizes they can do is “Win the whole damn thing.” The fictitious then goes on to win the whole damn thing.

And while Arsenal were never as far down the ladder as those fictitious Indians, the mode prior to this season has been one of despair. Finally, it looks like the club are in the right direction. My overall prognosis is and will be they are still another striker short of making a full-fledged run but as Abraham Lincoln once said when asked about changing his position on an issue –

“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

In other words if Arsenal continue their impressive run, then I hope to wiser on the “needs” issue then I was when I made the previous statement.

How the match should play out:

I fully expect a wide open game and Arsenal to look for their early goal again. In every match they’ve played this season they have scored first. And while they lost the plot against Aston Villa (with some help) they are a tough team to play against when the have a lead. Look for Arsenal to once again snatch an early lead and force the game wider than it should be. Getting Stoke to further commit to going forward, will help in creating more chances for Arsenal’s killer counter. Look for Stoke to play the open game we want but look for them to still press hard and try and limit the space Arsenal have for their passing game. Hughes likes to play, but he also isn’t adverse to sticking on into Arsenal. Look for both Özil and Wilshere and possibly Ramsey to likely have their ankles nipped at when ever the occasion arises. Still, I like the momentum and confidence we are playing with. While I always urge caution, still think the Arsenal are too much for a revamped Stoke.

Players to Watch:

Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey. Simply having the time of his life. Whereas he was criticized for every little mistake he made, he simply can’t put a foot wrong right now. Plus, how sweet would it be for him to get the goal that puts the game out of reach.

Stoke. Charlie Adam. Seems to be the fulcrum of Hughes’ new look Stoke.

Projected Lineups:

Video Lineup:

Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal:  Diaby (knee), Arteta ( thigh) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) Podolski (calf) Rosicky (thigh) Mertesacker (illness)

Stoke:  Muniesa (groin)

Last Meeting (EPL):
Arsenal: 1

Stoke: 0

Leading Scorer:
Arsenal: Giroud 4

Stoke:  Pennant 1, Adam 1, Shawcross 1

Assists:
Arsenal: Özil 1, Giroud 1, Cazorla 1, Oxlade-Chmaberlain 1, Ramsey 1, Walcott 1

Stoke: Huth 1, Walters 1

Goals For:
Arsenal (home): 1

Stoke (away): .5

Goals Against:
Arsenal (home): 1.5

Stoke (away) : .5

Goal Differential:
Arsenal: 3

Sunderland: 1

Match Official:
Referee: Dean (Matches: 2. R0 Y12)
Assistants:  Collin, Beswick
Fourth Official: Mason

Broadcast Information:
US: CNBC Sports Network: 8:30 AM

UK: Sky Sports 1: 13.30 GMT

YAMA Prediction:
Arsenal: 2

Stoke: 0


Comments

  1. Sirep - September 24, 2013 at 07:15

    Great game but i know i am not alone in saying the players looked exhausted!!! Giroud, Wilshire, Flamini and Ozil were done. We need to sacrifice the league cup as the next two games after are key (Swansea and Napoli). In the UCL, in our group of death its all about winning your home games.

    Only concern is if we lose at West Brom could it have a detrimental effect on the team? At this point in time, we rather take that risk then risk an injury to any of the starting 11. Giroud, Wilshire and Flamini shouldnt even be in the squad for Wed. Maybe start Ramsey with Arteta and Frimpong in the midfield with Miyachi, Nicky (humble) B and Gnarby at top. Which defender do we rest between BFG and Kos? I rather rest BFG but i dont trust TV to play with Kos.

    So many decisions, Its time for Wenger to earn his keep this month. And on a last note, why has Rosisky never retired from international football? i swear he always goes down during the international break, every year. Dude is in his 30s, he needs to preserve his league football years and retire.

    Reply
  2. stag133 - September 23, 2013 at 21:17

    I was in Arizona, so no chance I was awake for a 545am start!
    another big win, and top of the table… what can you say?
    Arsenal certainly haven’t played any team of note yet… but you can’t really do any more
    than the schedule that’s given to you…

    It just gives Wenger lots of bluster and he’s all spouting about how we are title contenders now…
    OK. we’ll see.
    I mean, can we play a few matches against the steel of the league?

    Ramsey is obviously taking a major step forward and you have to be happy for the guy…
    battled injuries, and all the negative things said about him by the club’s own supporters, were enough to make the guy want to leave…
    but he’s ARSENAL… through and through… bleeds Arsenal – Red.

    Ozil has been very very good… and the club is doing what it needs to do on the pitch.

    no complaints… makes it all a bit more interesting…

    Did I really see Nick Bendtner’s name the team sheet?
    wow.
    just amazing.
    how does he stroll back into the practice session, and pull on a kit?

    Reply
    • stag133 - September 24, 2013 at 03:13

      Tottenham is a team of note… I give them credit.
      I’d like to see a win over Chelsea, Man City or ManU… that would make me believe that much is possible.

      Bendy to play in the League Cup.
      just crazy… this guy has had a wild ride… didn’t make much impact at Juventus or Sunderland, and 2 years later, he’s back at Arsenal, because:
      a) nobody else wants him for his salary
      b) we don’t really have many actual options at striker

      I don’t really fancy the player, or his arrogant attitude for someone who’s done shite in football…
      but go gett’em Nick… you’re about out of chances at a “big club”…

      Reply
  3. joshuad - September 23, 2013 at 20:02

    holy smokes. big 3-1 win on saturday that moved arsenal to the top of the table and not a single post? are you kidding me? what the hell is going on around here? am i talking to myself?

    sirep, i read your reply to my post on the previous thread. i, too, miss the days of 50 posts per thread. however, i don’t believe arsenal winning will bring that back; unless it’s with a bunch of new guys. the main reason is that so many have declared wenger out as the only way forward for the club. however, wenger has gone against the perceived mold and spent big money on a single player. likewise, if arsenal find success with wenger still at the helm, it might mean egg on the face for some. a handful of fans, like stag and myself, don’t care about being wrong sometimes. but i believe a significant number of posters care more about their pride than they do about celebrating any success arsenal might have in the future. with that nothing is settled yet, but arsenal are off to a decent start. i’m a happy fan.

    ramsey is the surprise for me this season. fulham wanted him last summer and i thought he needed to go out on loan last seaosn and develop. however, wenger decided to keep him in house and it’s proved to be the right answer. i’ve never been a fan of aaron ramsey but i’ve always respected the fact that wenger sees that boy in training every day while our exposure as fans is limited. i would have preferred to see coquelin in the side but i honestly don’t see a way back for him. we’ll see.

    oozil seems to be fitting in with minimal fuss; good player tend to do that. cant wait to see him linking play with santi, poldi, and alex. good times ahead, i hope.

    Reply

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DaAdminGooner

Founder, editor, writer, designer of YouAreMyArsenal.com. When he’s not following the Arsenal,he’s busy coaching various age groups the right way to play the beautiful game

I am neurotic. Well, Arsenal tends to do that to you and due to this maddening love affair I have with this team across the sea, I rise and fall like everyday (given our current state some times more than 5 times a day.) I love this team and hope it comes through even slightly with this blog.

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