September 22, 2013; 13:30 BST
Arsenal FC host Stoke City at the Emirates on Sunday, in a match where both the teams seems to be in good form presently.
Arsenal have turned around their season fantastically after this much talked about opening day loss to Aston Villa at the Emirates. They have now won six games on a row after that defeat and are currently in second place in the league table. In their last game an early goal from Olivier Giroud and a brace from Aaron Ramsey gave them three points against Sunderland, although the game was later overshadowed by controversies regarding some questionable decisions by the referee.
Stoke City have also been in fine form under new manager Mark Hughes. Like Arsenal they have recovered well from their opening day defeat against Liverpool and followed that up with two impressive wins against Crystal Palace and West Ham. In their last game, they put up a wonderful display against Manchester City and were unlucky in many respects to have come out with only a draw in that game.
Stoke’s physical style of play has always given Arsenal a hard time on the pitch, although their last victory against the Gunners came in 2011. At the Emirates though Arsenal have had the upper hand, winning all of their last six encounters. The last meeting between these two sides ended in a 1-0 victory for the London club as Lukas Podolski scored the winner in the second half.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Arsene Wenger has a long injury list to deal with ahead of this game with Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain all out injured. The good news is that Mikel Arteta has seemingly recovered from his injury and will undergo a late fitness test, although he is unlikely to start in this game. Inclusion of Per Mertesacker in place of Carl Jenkinson is the only change that will be made to the starting eleven that was fielded against Sunderland.
Arsenal’s midfield is seemingly working fine at the moment. Flamini’s arrival has added a it steel and protection in front of the defence, something they need against teams like Stoke City, while Ramsey has been in scintillating form so far. With Flamini and Ramsey covering behind him, Wilshere is visually enjoying his enhanced freedom. He and Ozil have been continuously exchanging their roles, and this movement is causing a lot of travel for the opponents. Ozil has already made his impact on the side upon his arrival.
With a start for Peter Crouch on the cards, the role of Per Mertesacker will be extremely crucial. It will also present a dilemma for the Gunners as they can’t afford to drop too deep in defence as it will allow Crouch to have a lot of influence in the match, while if they push higher up the pitch, it will allow the likes of Walters and Etherington to run behind the defence. Since most of Stoke’s attack is built down their right wing, Ozil or Wilshere will have to track back in order to help out the defenders.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1] : Szczesny [GK]; Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Ramsey, Flamini; Walcott, Ozil, Wilshere; Giroud
Stoke will be without Glenn Whelan, Marc Muniesa and Jamie Ness in this game. Mark Hughes is expected to make only one change to the team he fielded against Manchester City. Peter Crouch is expected to replace Kenwyne Jones upfront, who missed a lot of guilt edged chances against the Citizens.
There has almost being a distinct change in style of play for Stoke under Mark Hughes. Not that they have moved away from thumping the ball upfront, but now they are also willing to keep the ball and pass it around when needed. Stoke haven’t always been the most popular sides among the neutrals, but this season they are starting to win them over.
Most of Stoke City’s attack comes down the right hand side of the pitch with Walters, Adams and fullback Cameron involved in it. But Steven N’Zonzi and Marc Wilson are perhaps the two most important midfielders in the side at the moment. N’Zonzi has been in brilliant form this season and has pulled the strings in the midfield, while Wilson protects the back four in a more defensive role.
Etherington and Walters will be key for Stoke in many ways. Both of them will have to track back and help out the defence when the Arsenal full backs bomb forward, on the other hand they will be the focal point in counter-attacks as the Gunners seem to be vulnerable down the wide areas.
Probable Starting Line-Up [4-5-1]: Begovic [GK]; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters; Walters, Adam, Wilson, N’Zonzi, Etherington; Crouch
- Stoke City have conceded 13 and scored just three goals in their last six visit to the Emirates.
- Peter Crouch has scored seven Barclays Premier League goals against Arsenal; only against Blackburn (8) has he been more prolific.
- Stoke have completed 79% of their passes in the Premier League this season; more than in any of the five Premier League seasons under Tony Pulis.
- All four of Giroud’s goals this season have come before half-time and all before the 24th minute.
- Stoke will be the fifth team Mark Hughes has coached in an away game against Arsenal in the Premier League, but he has lost all six previous visits to north London to play the Gunners.
Player To Watch Out For
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
Aaron Ramsey has been been Arsenal’s best player this season (including the preseason matches). The 22-year-old midfielder has transformed as player and it seems like he is finally close to realizing his huge potential. The Welshman put up a fantastic display in the midweek against Marseille, where he ended up with another goal. But it is his energy and creativity in the midfield that could prove to be so crucial for the Gunners this season. He is perhaps one player whom even the neutral/opposing fans wants to see him do well. He could once again be the deciding factor against Stoke in the midfield.
Arsenal 2-1 Stoke City
Stoke City have improved a lot so they will put up a decent fight against the in form Arsenal side. But Emirates has been fortress for Arsenal when it comes to the clashes between these two sides. Expected Arsenal to take an early lead in this game, as they have done so many times this season. Stoke will pull one back, but Mesut Ozil might just open his account with an winner in this game.