Ah, the things you learn when you research an opponent. When preparing for Arsenal v Stoke City, I came across an interesting story of the controversial way in which the heated nature of this pseudo-rivalry began.
You have to go back to the ‘72 FA Cup Semifinal. A result that went to replay with Arsenal winning 2-1 at Goodison Park. Tied 1-1, Arsenal took the lead on a John Radford goal. It was Charlie George’s assist that was controversial.
George received the ball a few yards offside but the linesman didn’t call it. The reason? Supposedly the linesman, one Bob Matthewson, mistook the white coat of the program seller as the uniform of a Stoke player. The rest they say is history.
Stoke throughout their history have always been labeled an unattractive side. There “brutish” style of play and the behavior of some of their fans lending itself to the creation of a popular phrase “but can they do it on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke?”
We don’t need to go back to the ’71 or ’72 Cup semifinals to see why this match up always boils over – we need only go back to the 2010 Ryan Shawcross tackle on Aaron Ramsey that left the Welshman’s tibia and fibula fractured.
Shawcross of course was labeled as “not that kind of player” and as the years have gone on its Ramsey that gets the derision from Stoke fans for his injuries.
Don’t want to go back that far – what about 2 years ago. We’d just signed Mathieu Debuchy and his Arsenal career looked like it would be on an upward trajectory. However, he and Marko Arnautovic were battling for a 50/50 ball at the end line when Arnautovic shoved the Frenchman into the digital sign board.
Debuchy suffered a shoulder injury that would keep him out of the lineup for a long period of time. During that time we thankfully discovered Hector Bellerin during his time filling in. Debuchy hasn’t been the same since.
The fact is the relationship between these teams when it comes to playing the game has been always a mixed bag. At home Arsenal always seem to get the better of Stoke. Last year we won with ease 2-0. It’s away at their place where we seem to falter.
Overall though, Arsenal have won 50% of the matches they’ve played against Stoke. We’re a whopping 46W, 21D, 25L to the visitors. And as they come to the Emirates, we’ve got to like our chances against Mark Hughes rising side.
Mark Hughes has tried to revamp the image of Stoke. He has tried to eradicate the narrative of Stoke being an unattractive, over-glorified Rugby side that plays on a football pitch. He’s tried to bring in technically talented players and get Stoke to do more than just survive in the Premier League.
That being said, we should expect that while Stoke may be more open, they’ll preferably sit back and use that talent to hit Arsenal on the counter. Again, it’s another case of making the most of the chances we have when they present themselves.
Stoke’s season started off in fits with them hovering around the relegation zone, but they’ve managed to sit at 9th after putting together an improved run of form.
These are the teams we simply need to beat. The upper mid-table teams that present more challenges then the lower-tier teams and in some cases the upper-echelon squads that make up the top 6.
We know Stoke are never going to be a Champion’s League level side. It’s just not in their DNA. But they offer enough to cause Arsenal problems. Coming into this match overlooking them and playing flat would likely embolden a side that’s looking to catch up to teams like Manchester United.
Arsenal should be brimming with confidence after their demolition of Basel in the midweek. Even with changes made to the squad, we moved with ease around their pitch and took advantage of the space that was given to us.
That attitude has to carry over into this match. We should expect to see changes to the starting XI again. While many will call for Lucas to get a starting slot, I still think Wenger opts for Theo who got rest in the midweek. Remember, Lucas as good as he was on Tuesday is only just back from injury and it wouldn’t be prudent to expect him to play another full 90 so quickly.
Additionally, I also suspect that it will be a little too soon for Hector Bellerin to feature in the squad. The good news is that Gabriel while initially a worry, deputizing as a RB, has proven to be more than up for the role and has actually been better than hoped – man that boy has a touch for a CB.
Arsenal are on an amazing run, having not lost in the league since opening day. With the gap between teams at the top differentiated by only a point or two, we can’t afford to slip if we intend to continue our assault on the title.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez. Is there a hotter player on the planet right now? Nope.
Stoke: Xherdan Shaqiri. He’s a fire plug of a player with a chip on his shoulder. The battle between him and Xhaka (international teammates) should be fun.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Akpom (back), Mertesacker (knee), Welbeck (knee), Cazorla (achilles), Debuchy (achilles)
Stoke: Butland (ankle), Cameron (knee), Bardsley (knee,), Afellay (knee), Ireland (leg) Shawcross (calf)
West Ham: WLDLD
Goals Scored Per Game:
Goal Conceded Per Game:
From the Manager’s Perspective (courtesy Arsenal.com)
“I believe that first of all we have a good team dynamic, we have a very strong team spirit and we have more maturity, definitely,” Wenger said. “Unfortunately, the teams around us have as well more.
“I would say today you can assess the Premier League as very open and very interesting as well because there are many, many big games. On our side, we are in the middle of the fight and we have a chance so in December that’s very interesting.
“As you know, December is a very important month and for us even more because we have some big games. But overall, I’m very happy with the way we behave and with the consistency of our desire.
“We are playing well but we have plenty of room for improvement. I think we want to develop as a team and that’s what we have done since the start of the season.
“We had a very difficult start and since we have responded very well. I feel the team is on the way upwards but we have as well to show that first of all we can improve, that we have the desire to improve as a team, and as well, that we can repeat the performances week in, week out.
“Stoke is another challenge for us that we can reset, refocus and continue our development and take the points.”
Referee: Lee Mason (7M, 27Y, 1R)
Assistants: S Beck, M Wilkes
Fourth official: P Tierney
UK: BBC MOTD – Highlights Only
US: NBC Sports Network: 10:00AM EST
Arsenal 2 – 0 Stoke
Match Facts (courtesy FourFourTwo.com via Opta)
- Arsenal have won each of their last 14 home games in all competitions against Stoke City, keeping eight clean sheets in the process.
- Stoke’s last away league win at Arsenal came in the first game of the 1981/82 season, with Lee Chapman scoring the only goal of the game.
- Arsenal are now on a 13-game unbeaten run in the Premier League (W9 D4 L0); their longest such run in the competition since a run of 16 games that ended in April 2011.
- Stoke City have lost only one of their last nine Premier League games (W5 D3 L1) and have won their last two matches in the competition without conceding a goal.
- The Potters have lost all eight of their visits to the Emirates in the Premier League. Only at Old Trafford have they gone longer without a win since being promoted in 2008 (nine games, W0 D1 L8).
- Alexis Sanchez scored twice and assisted another goal in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Stoke in January 2015.
- Sanchez has had a hand in 25 goals in his last 25 Premier League appearances for Arsenal (18 goals, seven assists).
- This is Sanchez’s joint-best goal return after 14 apps of a league season in Europe (11 goals), equalling his 11-goal tally for Barcelona in 2013-14. If he scores in this game, it would be his best goalscoring start to a European league season after 15 games.
- Peter Crouch has scored eight times against Arsenal in the Premier League – only against Blackburn does he have as many goals in the competition.
- The Gunners have made a higher proportion of their passes in the final third of the pitch than any other team in the Premier