STOKE CITY

v

ARSENAL FC

The Britannia Stadium, Stoke-On-Trent
May 8, 2011, 18:35 IST

Fifteen months after having been ‘Shawcrossed’ at The Brittania, Aaron Ramsey will make his return to the scene of the crime, and the occasion doesn’t get bigger than this. Last weekend, Arsenal successfully broke the United voodoo by defeating them at home thanks to a solitary goal by Ramsey, which summed up his dominance in the midfield in the absence of the talismanic Arsenal skipper. Ramsey had a pass success rate of 89%, and with Wilshere (87%) dictated terms over United on that day at The Emirates.

It would most certainly be a bit edgy for Ramsey to return to the same place where his leg was broken by Shawcross. A year back, the ‘English Media’ admitted that the Stoke center-half ‘was certainly not that kinda guy’ who would go about breaking peoples’ legs; they tried to put forward the point that Ryan had no intentions of breaking Ramsey’s leg when he went for the tackle. That entire media gibberish aside, Ramsey had to endure nine months of absolute anguish, making a gradual return to first team football. The Wales Captain made a few loan appearances for Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, before Arsene recalled him to the senior team. His big day came when Cesc was announced injured before the biggest match of the season; he rose up to the occasion, and announced his return to English football with some eye-catching game play. His next task would be to exorcise the ghosts of Brittania, by playing another cameo to help Arsenal beat Stoke so that they can stay as close to the Top Two as possible.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Stoke City

With one eye at the FA Cup Final against Manchester City, the home team might be having a difficult time to concentrate on this match against ‘Football Philosophy Rivals’ Arsenal. Tony Pulis and Arsene Wenger dislike each other because of their poles-apart philosophies of football, but the flamboyant Arsenal team find it really hard to get the better of this ‘physical’ Stoke team as seen in the past. Having said that, the match at New Wembley next weekend is probably the biggest match of their entire history for the Potters, and they might be tempted to rest some key players six days before the epic encounter with Manchester City.

Beware the Delap missile, Arsenal!

John Carew will pushing for a first-team start, as he has shown some determined performances. Andy Wilkinson had an injury scare last weekend, and he will have to pass a fitness test before this match. Influential playmaker Etherington is fighting against time to play in that big final against City, while Ricardo Fuller is out for the season with an Achilles injury. Stoke will be looking at Delap’s long throws and Pennant’s crosses to upset Arsenal’s rhythm.

Probable Starting Line-Up: Begovic, Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson, Delap, Whelan, Whitehead, Pennant, Walters, Jones

Arsenal

Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, the creative heads of the Arsenal midfield, would be big misses for the visiting team, who would try to counter long balls and long throws with creative football. Wilshere and Ramsey are the best choices to fill in the creative void left behind by the injured duo. The manager will bring Arshavin back in the starting line-up to guard the left flank. In the absence of Diaby, who will be missed in this ‘physical battle’, Ramsey will continue in midfield while Theo is expected to start on the right wing.

Ramsey will have to exorcise the demons of this pitch!

Thomas Vermaelen, who hasn’t played since September, is expected to make his much-awaited comeback, after Djorou had picked up an injury in the match against United. The Belgian captain had been out for a long time with an Achilles problem, and Arsenal certainly missed the leadership and calmness in the center of the back line in his absence. Vermaelen will partner French defender Koscielny, who had a fantastic outing in his last match. Arsenal need to be very disciplined against Stoke during long throw-ins and dead-ball situations, if they are to get away with all points from the Britannia.

Probable Starting Line-Up: Szczsney, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Clichy, Song , Arshavin, Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, van Persie

Key Facts

  1. There is a 24-point gap between Arsenal and Stoke City.
  2. Arsenal’s unbeaten run of 18 games was halted at Bolton, prior to last weekend’s fixture.
  3. Stoke City have scored 11 goals in their last four league games.
  4. The Arsenal team playing last weekend was the youngest team to play in this season.

TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For

Aaron Ramsey

It is a good thing if Arsenal play with extra-motivation, based on that evening’s impact on Aaron Ramsey’s career. The Welshman will try to make a point or two about how he has made a speedy recovery with more determination than anybody could have possibly imagined. The massive performance against United has given him the belief that he can be back to his best, even after such a horrible injury. Arsenal will be looking at the young pairing of Jack and Rambo to bail them out of Britannia with three points in the kitty.

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

Stoke City 1 – 2 Arsenal

Arsenal has been fantastic down the road this season; it is their home form that has put them in this position in the league. Though Arsenal’s Achilles heel lies in defending long balls, they should be determined enough to see off the danger, with Vermaelen back in the squad. With Arsenal’s superior creativity levels and quality, the visiting team is expected to come back with all points from The Britannia.

TheHardTackle’s Blast from The Past