Match Preview: Stoke City v Arsenal; Battling A Bogey Team
Getting off to a good start this season is an imperative for Arsenal. For a while last week we wondered if that was going to be possible but in the end they sealed the win with a dramatic comeback against Leicester City. They look to add on to that win with their first away trip of season to Stoke.
Stoke is as we all know a bogey team for the Gunners. In the last 7 matches at the BET365 (formerly Britannia) Stadium, the Potters are 3W 3D 1L. Last season however, in May, the Gunners pelted Mark Hughes’ men to the tune of a 1-4 away win.
There are still some roster concerns for the team in this trip as Alexis Sanchez is still sidelined with what is being classified as an abdominal strain. Laurent Koscielny will miss the match while serving the last of his 3 game suspension.
Against Leicester last weekend, Arsenal looked potent in attack but as we’ve grown accustomed to, wobbly at the back. The team will need to solidify itself back there and reduce the number of individual errors if they are going to come away with another 3 points.
People will look to last week’s match and say the team as a whole couldn’t defend. When you look more closely at the goals scored, you can find individual errors that led to each one. That’s not to say the system couldn’t be tweaked but, who could’ve foreseen Petr Cech playing the ball wrong or someone not know their role in a zonal marking system (that last one is a rhetorical question.)
Defensively, Arsenal should improve with Mustafi and Mertesacker available to add some stability to the back line. While Mertesacker may have one foot out the door, he still offers an assured presence back there that has a calming effect on all around him. Look at how Rob Holding’s game changed after the BFG went off in the Community Shield and you’ll know the impact he has those around him.
As for our opponents, some pundits have them pegged for troubles with even a few having them as early favorites for the drops. Hughes has strengthened his side through the loan system with the most recent addition the former Real Madrid striker Jese, signing on a season loan from PSG.
Hughes has said he would like to get all his new signings bedded in during this match but whether they start or come off the bench is still to be determined, either way, the Potters look to be a team that is a work in progress.
Trends to Watch:
Early in the season it’s hard to identify one trend to watch out for. However, last week against Leicester, Arsenal reverted back to a 4-2-3-1 when chasing the match. While it’s too early to tell if he has abandoned the more formation-dujour of the 3-4-3, we want to keep looking at this to see if Wenger opts to go back to what we think is his more favored style of playing.
How the Match Plays Out:
Stoke also rolled with a new 3-4-3 look last week versus Everton, it didn’t exactly look that good. Their midfield lacks any creativity, the only strength they truly have right now (especially with the departure of Aranautovic) is Shaquiri on the right. Their new signings are likely not fully integrated but you still know that Hughes will have his team ready to play.
Essentially if each team is utilizing the 3-4-3, its going to come down to whether or not Arsenal can make Cameron and Shawcross move more than they should. Against Leicester, for all of the supposed back and forth, Arsenal moved the ball well (even though there is still room for improvement) and seemed a lot more fluid and Arsenal-like.
Look for each team to mark the other out man for man but Arsenal’s mobility and speed against Stoke’s lack of comfortability playing in a new system with players who aren’t fully integrated into the side. Arsenal’s mobility and team cohesion is likely to put them at an advantage over Stoke and the duo of Kolasinac and Monreal should be more than enough to keep Stoke’s biggest threat quiet.
What the Manager Says (Courtesy Arsenal.com):
“We were well-organised, efficient and under pressure to win the game,” he said. “We were on a strong run as well.
“We had a convincing win there and that should inspire us. Traditionally it’s always been a difficult place to go for everybody, but of course we continue in a strong way our start to the season.
“I don’t believe in bogey teams too much. What is important is the performance on the day. We had a good performance last season and we have to focus on that, just to deal with the same performance.
“Stoke have a good record at home against many teams and I’m convinced that if we play our game, we have a good chance of winning.”
Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Granit Xhaka. With two assists last week, Xhaka became the unlikely hero of that match. He is showing so far exactly why he was a top target for the Gunners. Combined with his defensive ability he adds grit and guile to the Arsenal midfield
Stoke: Xherdan Shaqiri. Xhaka’s Swiss national teammate, is the primary threat for Stoke. Keep him quiet, Arsenal can look to possibly walk out of the BET365 with the win.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris injury), Sanchez (abdominal strain), Koscielny (suspended – 3/3)
Stoke: Ngoy (thigh strain), Afellay (knee), Ireland (broken leg)
Probable Line ups:
Arsenal: Cech; Mustafi, Mertesacker, Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Özil, Welbeck; Lacazette
Stoke: Butland; Shawcross, Cameron, Zouma; Fletcher, Allen, Pieters, Diouf; Berahino, Bojan, Shaqiri
Referee: Andre Marriner (1M 3Y 1R)
Assistants: S Beck, S Ledger
Fourth official: R Madley
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC.com)
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five Premier League meetings with Stoke (W4, D1), conceding just two goals in the process.
- Stoke’s 4-1 defeat against Arsenal in May last season ended their six-match unbeaten home run in this fixture (W3, D3).
- The Gunners could win successive top-flight games at Stoke for the first time since 1969.
- Arsenal could win their opening two games of a Premier League season for the first time in eight years.
- The Gunners could win seven consecutive league fixtures for the first time since an eight-match streak from February to April 2015.
- They are unbeaten in their opening away fixture in each of the last eight seasons (W3, D5).
- Alexandre Lacazette is vying to become the first player to score in his first two Premier League appearances for Arsenal.
- Granit Xhaka’s two assists against Leicester City on the opening day equalled his tally in 32 games last season.
Stoke 1 – 2 Arsenal
Highlights from Last Match
Stoke 1 – 4 Arsenal (Premier League 13 May 2017)