Arsenal

V

Stoke City

The Emirates Stadium, North London

15:00 Hrs GMT, 2nd Feb 2013

****

Arsenal welcomes a struggling Stoke City team at the Emirates today, as the Gunners look to make up some of the lost ground in the race for the 4th place in the league.

Arsenal dropped points against Liverpool last week. The Gunners made a wonderful comeback in the second half of the match, but it was a reminder once again how poorly Arsenal have performed in the first half of the last few matches. In fact, statistics show that the Gunners would have been in the second place in the table if only the second half of the matches in the EPL were considered. Instead Arsenal find themselves in the sixth place and four points behind fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur.

Stoke City on the other hand have been on a poor run of form lately. The Potters’ last victory in the league came back in December when they defeated Liverpool at home. But it has all gone downhill since.

In their last match, Stoke made a fantastic start against Wigan as Shawcross and Crouch gave them a two goal advantage, but they failed to hold on to the lead and conceded two goals in a space of nine minutes in the second. Although Stoke are currently sitting in the 10th place in the league, Tony Pulis would be well aware of the fact that if they don’t manage to turn around their recent run of results – they could soon find themselves in the relegation dog fight.

Both these teams, with contrasting styles, have always served up intriguing battles in the past. We bring you the detailed preview of this match.

Team News

Arsenal

Arsenal’s perennial injury worries are back. Kieran Gibbs has been ruled out for six weeks due to his thigh injury and this will come as an huge blow for Arsene Wenger considering the big Champions League clash coming up against Bayern Munich and the string of poor performances that Andre Santos has put together in his short Arsenal career.

But Wenger does have a new replacement for Gibbs at least in the Premier League in Arsenal’s deadline day signing Nacho Monreal. The former Malaga left back is expected to start against Stoke City ahead of Santos.

The other big worry for Wenger is the fitness of club captain Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgium international will undergo a late fitness test before the match and with important European matches in the horizon – Wenger is unlikely to take any risk with him. Koscielny will start along with Mertesacker in the center of the defence.

The good news for the gunners is the quick recovery of Mikel Arteta. Although the Spaniard is unlikely to start in this match, he is expected to make it to the bench. Aaron Ramsey, whose performances have improved drastically, will get another start against Stoke City.

Coquelin and Fabianski remain the other injury concerns while Gervinho is still away on his international duty in the African Cup Of Nations.

Tactically, Arsenal are expected to hold a very high line in defence in order to negate Peter Crouch’s threat in the final third. But the Gunners will have to be careful about handling Etherington and Walters down the wings as these two have the capability of exploiting space in behind the full-backs.

Jack Wilshere and Ramsey have to put in a hard shift in the center of the park as they will be up against a packed Stoke midfield. On the other hand Stoke are very vulnerable in the full-back ares themselves and Podolski/Walcott could have a field day at the Emirates.

Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1):  Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Wilshere; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud

 Arsenal

Stoke City

Tony Pulis, unlike Arsene Wenger, doesn’t have a long injury list to contain with. Marc Wilson, who has missed action since October due to his broken leg, is returning to full fitness and is expected to take part in reserve matches next week.

Stoke City did make two good signings on the deadline day of the January transfer window. Jack Butland, promising young goalkeeper, was signed from Birmingham, but the custodian has been loaned back to his former club for the rest of the season.

Brek Shea, who arrived from the MLS, will need time to regain match fitness and is unlikely to take part in next two matches.

Tactically Stoke City have to tighten up at the back. The Potters have conceded 15 goals in their last five matches, and amazingly, that is nearly half of what they have conceded the whole season so far. Tony Pulis might look to bring in Wilkinson into the back four in place of Dean Whitehead.

The Potters will once again pack the midfield with Whelan and Adams sitting deep. Whelan will have the tough job of keeping Cazrola and Wilshere in check. Tony Pulis would want his team to press hard and deny Arsenal any time and space on the ball.

They would also look to exploit the full-back area in the Arsenal team as the Gunners have looked vulnerable down the wings in the last few matches. Peter Crouch will once again play a key role and he loves scoring against Arsenal. In fact Crouch has scored seven goals against Arsenal in the league.

Possible Starting Line-Up (4-5-1) Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilkinson; Walters, Whelan, Nzonzi, Adam, Etherington; Crouch.

Key Facts

  1. Arsenal have won five and lost just one of their last eight Premier League games against Stoke (D2), with four of those wins coming at the four meetings they have had at Emirates Stadium.
  2. The Potters have won just one of their last 21 Premier League away games (W1 D9 L11).
  3. If only the second half of games counted this season Arsenal would be second (46 points), two points behind Manchester City (48).
  4. Stoke have drawn more games 0-0 than any other Premier League side this season (5).
  5. The Emirates has witnessed more goals than any other Premier League stadium this season (50).

Player(s) To Watch Out For

Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)

Arsenal

The Frenchman has been on fire recently. Giroud has scored five goals (and an assist) in his last six matches in the league for Arsenal. It seems like the 26-year-old has finally found his feet in England.

With both Walcott and Giroud in rich vein of form, Arsenal will go into this match quietly confident of out-scoring Stoke (who have been leaking goals left, right and center lately).

Prediction

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City

The Emirates hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Stoke. In fact they have lost all of their four matches against Arsenal in their new stadium. And the fact that Tony Pulis’ men have managed just one win in their last 21 away matches – doesn’t augur well for the Potters.

Arsenal’s attacking trio have been in excellent form off late and they will cause lot of headache for a leaky Stoke defense. The Gunners are vulnerable at the back, but Stoke are unlikely to get too much of the possession to test the Arsenal back-four. Expect Arsenal to take an early lead in this match and hold onto their lead comfortably.

Blast From The Past