Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Sunday, August 26, 6:00 p.m. ET
Arsenal travel to the Britannia Stadium, a place with few fond memories for the Gunners, this Sunday. These are two sides with diametrically contradicting footballing philosophy, two sides who openly despise each other. There is almost a derby-like feeling to these clashes.
Arsenal started off their premier league campaign with a frustrating draw against Sunderland at the Emirates. The match report was very much in the mould of what one has experienced during previous seasons – dominating possession, controlling the pace of the game with final ball or finishing touch letting them down. There was two positives though – Santi Cazorla’s performance and a clean sheet. Although it was only the first game of the season, it was a chance missed by Arsenal to take an early lead from the usual top four suspects as Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United dropped points.
Arsene Wenger has come out and said that he is looking to add a defender and a midfielder to the squad before the window closes. It looks like Wenger isn’t holding back his cards in this transfer window. It would be interesting to see what new additions the Gunners end up with, but Nuri Sahin is nearly sure to be one of those new additions. Either way, Arsenal will have to be more proactive and clinical in front of the goal to get a positive result at Stoke.
Stoke City, like Arsenal, began their campaign with a draw at Madejski Stadium. The Potters managed to take the lead through Michael Knightly in the first half, but right at the end a foul by Dean Whitehead on Garath McCleary inside the penalty box meant the Stoke defender got his marching orders after receiving his second booking of the match. Adam Le Fondre stepped up and scored from the resulting penalty to draw level for Reading. It was a bitter blow for Stoke who looked good for all three points but missed out narrowly.
Arsenal have won just once in their last four visits to the Britannia stadium, that win came back in February 2010. In their last visit, the match ended in a 1-1 draw as Peter Crouch and Robin van Persie scored. Goals have certainly not lacked when these two sides have met with 19 goals scored in their last six meetings. So expect an action packed match once again.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Arsenal are currently at the top of the table, injury list-wise with six players out. Laurent Koscielny and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain both missed out Arsenal’s last match due to niggling calf and ankle injury respectively. Although Koscielny is said to have returned to full training but Wenger is unlikely to risk either of them in the next match. Tomas Rosicky and Bacary Sagna are expected to return in the first week of October, while Frimpong and Wilshere remains Arsenal’s long term casualties.
Tactically Arsene Wenger haven’t changed anything this season. Arsenal will line up in the familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. The back four performed admirably in the opening game, but then again Sunderland didn’t pose much of threat going forward, so the match against Stoke will really be the first real test for the Arsenal defence. Arsene will look to use Per Mertesacker’s height and strength to defend against Stoke’s high-balls, long throw-ins and Peter Crouch. While defending Arsenal will have to hold up a very line because the deeper they defend, more effective Peter Crouch becomes. Jenkinson will come up against Etherington, and the pacy winger might look to exploit the youngster’s inexperience, so it would necessary that Theo Walcott and Arteta provide defensive cover to the right full-back.
Abou Diaby would start his second game in a row, a feat he should be proud of, given his injury record. The Frenchman looked sharp in the opening game and was a good driving force in the midfield with his powerful runs. Arteta, following the departure of Alex Song, will have more defensive responsibilities to fulfil now.
Santi Cazorla and Gervinho were arguably the best players on the pitch for Arsenal in their last game. Santi has adapted to the Premier league seamlessly. The Spaniard was nearly behind everything good for Arsenal and his beautiful reverse pass in the dying minutes of the match to Olivier Giroud, which astonishingly the Frenchman failed to convert, should have been the match winner. Gervinho on the other hand was a constant threat down the left and the Ivorian completely overshadowed Theo Walcott in that match.
Lukas Podolski will once again start upfront, but the German international didn’t have the best of his outings against Sunderland. It must be noted that Podolski has hardly led the line upfront in his career so far. Infact for Germany and FC Koln he has always played as a wide left-sided forward. It would be interesting to see if Podolski is able to adapt to this change in position quickly enough. Olivier Giroud will start from the bench and the Frenchman will look to put previous week’s disappointment behind him and start afresh. Giroud provides a different threat upfront as he is quite strong in the air having made quite a reputation back in days at France for scoring headers. Against a strong Stoke team, Giroud might be quite a useful weapon to have, not only for attack, but to also defend corners.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny(GK); Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Diaby, Arteta; Gervinho, Cazorla, Walcott; Podolski;
Stoke City, unlike Arsenal, have one Jermaine Pennant to worry about in the Injury front. The former Arsenal winger is slated to return next week. The Potters will also be missing midfielder Dean Whitehead due to suspension, after his red card at Reading.
Tony Pulis hasn’t changed his team’s approach this season, and why should he? With a relative modest squad they have been able to grind out results and that is because they have played to their strength. Against Reading, Stoke lined up in the 4-4-1-1 formation. The Potters have reliable back line with Shawcross and Robert Huth at the centre of it and they were well-organized till Whitehead fouled McCleary in the 88th minute. Wilkinson and Wilson will have to be on their heels as they will be against pacy Walcott and in-from Gervinho.
Geoff Cameron is expected to make his debut against the Gunners alongside Glenn Whelan in the midfield. Cameron will replace the suspended Whitehead. The former Houston Dynamo midfielder missed last match as he had issues with his Visa application. Glenn Whelan said –
“These things happen with Deano being sent off and if it’s Geoff taking his place then so be it. What we’ve seen in the short time he’s been with us is that he’s a top player. He’s settled in quickly and is getting on well with everyone. If he gets in the team on Sunday, the fans will see what he’s got.”
“Like most American players, he’s a tremendous athlete. He’s also got two good feet, so can play off right or left and he can play quite a few passes. Geoff has got to learn what the manager wants of him, and that can be quite tough, but I’m sure he will be a great acquisition to the team.”
Michael Kightly, the new signing from Wolves, have made a fantastic start to his career at Stoke. Knigtly scored on his debut against Reading. He along with Etherington are Stoke’s biggest weapon on the counter attack. Etherington is a wonderful crosser of the ball and with a target like Peter Crouch in the box, it is hard to miss your target. These two wingers will be looking to get in behind the Arsenal defence which will be holding a high line.
Upfront, Jonathan Walters will play just behind Peter Crouch. Walters had a good match against Reading and was involved in most of the attacks. Crouch as always will be looking to bully an Arsenal defence.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1): Begovic(GK); Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Knightly, Whelan, Cameron, Etherington; Walters; Crouch;
- Arsenal are undefeated in their last 5 matches in the Premier League.
- Stoke have drawn their last 3 home matches in the Premier League.
- In their last six meetings against Stoke (home and away), Arsenal have won three, lost two and drawn one.
Statistics courtesy Whoscored.
Players To Watch Out For
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
Santi Cazorla could potentially be Arsenal’s most significant player since Cesc Fabregas. Robert Pires in a recent interview said –
“Santi called me when the offer from the club arrived and I told him it was the perfect club for him. The way the team plays will suit him perfectly and he is the kind of player Arsene loves too. He is a very exciting player, very gifted technically with both feet. He has an impressive creative touch and he can play in the centre or on the wings.”
“His vision and the quality of his passing are brilliant but he can also take people on. Despite still being quite young, he has big experience with the Spanish national team and has also played in the Champions League. Finally, he has a very good mentality and is a real team player. He will need a bit of time to settle but I’m convinced he will adapt very quickly and will be a great signing for Arsenal.”
When a legend like Pires speaks, one should listen and coming to his ‘adaptability’ part, Cazorla’s performance against Sunderland should squander all doubts.
Matthew Etherington (Stoke City)
The former Tottenham winger is now a veteran in the English game with over 450 appearances in club football. Despite his age Etherington hasn’t lost much of his pace and remains one of Stoke most potent attacking threat. While Peter Crouch will an usual man to watch out for, Etherington would be the main supply channel for Crouch. The left-sided midfielder is good at crossing and isn’t shy of taking on defenders. Young Jenkinson will be in for a tough time if he allows Etherington to get behind him.
Stoke City 0-1 Arsenal
It will not be easy against Tony Pulis’ side, but Arsenal with their overall quality should nick this, just about. In their last match, the Gunners’ attack looked unsynchronized at times and that was mostly due to the fact that there were some new players and they will take time to settle down. However with each passing game, this Arsenal side should be a force to reckon with. Stoke as always, will try to bully the Gunners out of the match, but Arsenal will sneak in with a solitary goal.