LIVE from The Britannia Stadium, Staffordshire
Saturday, 28th April, 15:00 EST
The little matter of a Champions League semi-final victory for Chelsea means Arsenal need to make sure they finish third in the league. If Chelsea go on to win the coveted European trophy – the first London club to do so – the team finishing fourth in the league will have to settle for Europe’s second tier. At this moment, Arsenal sit tight in the third spot with a difficult trip to the Britannia awaiting them, following which they are left with two home games to seal the European deal.
It doesn’t need incredible amount of homework to decipher Stoke City’s play at their den – a physical ‘in-your-face’ brand of football that Arsenal are quite distressed about. Stoke always make life miserable for traveling parties with their direct route of football and this one will be no different.
Team News and Tactical Brief
With four games to go in the league, the home side is placed at an uncomfortable 14th spot, but quite assured of staying in the league. They may not have real motivation behind winning a game now but keeping Britannia a fortress is something they always desire. Tony Pulis’ team is going through a rough patch, they have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games in the league – which includes just one win. Jonathan Walters, who was out-of-sorts in the game against the Magpies, will ideally get another start against the visiting Gunners. Pulis on his striker -
“The best thing about him is that he will never stop getting into positions. His attitude and strength of character is fantastic and that’s why we pick him every week.”
Another massive player for Stoke is Peter Crouch, who is up front on his own when long balls are directed at him. He has scored some stunning goals for the Potters, and can be an important player for them for the future. Given his height, Stoke and Crouch are a match made in heaven! Stoke can apply a lot of pressure on the Arsenal full backs by deploying Matthew Etherington and former Gunner, Jermaine Pennant on either wings. Their attacking play is based on utilizing the width of the pitch – which these wingers are very good at. Dean Whitehead and Glenn Whelan will play in the center of midfield.
Salif Diao and Mamady Sidibe are sidelined due to injuries. From the remaining squad, Stoke City will be heavily reliant on their defensive pairing of Robert Huth and captain Ryan Shawcross, who have been quite excellent in the heart of their defence. In recent times, Stoke City has been a major thorn in Arsenal’s away day ambitions, but somehow the Gunners have managed to pick up crucial wins. It remains to be seen if they are up for this one.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Begovic, Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Etherington, Whitehead, Whelan, Pennant; Crouch, Walters
Arsenal sit at third and three points lead over Newcastle United. The Gunners have played one game extra and they still have a job to do. Arguably, this is the most difficult fixture of the three they have left and Arsenal cannot afford to drop any points. Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta are both out injured and may not take any part in the remainder of this season. Abou Diaby is back and so is Francis Coquellin. Both are capable of slotting in the middle of the park. In the absence of Theo, Oxlade-Chamberlain will get some game time for the rest of the season.
Freshly crowned the PFA Player of the Year, Robin van Persie, will lead the line having netted 27 times this season – though just one in his last seven outings. Tomas Rosicky, who was unwell in the last game he played, will operate in his much favored position. Alex Song and one of Diaby or Yossi Benayoun will start in the middle of the park in the absence of Mikel Arteta. The rear-guard will remain the same with Laurent Koscielny aiming to finish a fantastic season on a high.
Carl Jenkinson, like everybody else at the club is aware of Stoke’s strong point -
“I think it is fair to say that most teams struggle with the physical side that Stoke have, It is something we have to be aware of and it is no surprise anymore, everybody knows how Stoke play. They are a big, strong and physical side but we are prepared for that, know what is coming and just have to deal with it as best as we can.”
Arsenal need to pull up their socks, stay focused, and play their natural game. It is quite vital they pick up all points because a strange season-ending finale awaits.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Diaby; Gervinho, van Persie, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Key Match Facts
- Stoke City has won just one in their last eight outings – slipping to 14th place.
- Arsenal are a massive 23 points ahead of Stoke City.
- The last time Arsenal finished outside the top four – was in 1995, under Stewart Houston.
- Robin van Persie has been involved in 37 out of the 67 goals Arsenal have scored this season.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For
Peter Crouch (Stoke City)
It goes without saying that Peter Crouch has finally found the ‘dream team’ and a manager capable of playing his team based on Crouch’s strengths. The former Spurs man has found the net quite a number of times in recent games and is an important cog in that Stoke lineup. He can combine well with Walters up front and even play all by himself in a 4-5-1.
Stoke City 0 – 1 Arsenal
With both teams quite exhausted at the end of the season, this looks like a tame game on paper. Arsenal will manage to scrap home with three points, since they have more to play for than the home side.
TheHardTackle’s Blast From The Past
TheHardTackle’s Poll Of The Week