The Emirates Stadium
12th September 2015, Kick-Off: 1500 BST
While Arsenal have clawed back towards the upper end of the Premier League table, Stoke City much to the surprise of many, find themselves near the bottom. With only a month of play, the league table can obviously be a little misleading but the initial trends are noteworthy. In a nutshell, Stoke City need to bounce back from their early season slump and what better place to do it than at Arsenal, where the home team can’t seem to score a goal, even if their lives depended on it. Yet to score at home this term, and with only 1 point out of a possible 6, the Gunners could start to feel the heat if they don’t score early. Mark Hughes’ team will be well aware of that and with the pace of Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Diouf upfront, he will be hoping his side can trouble the Arsenal backline and make for a feisty contest.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal happen to be the only side in Europe’s top 5 leagues to have bought no outfield player, a stat that might soon start to loom its massive shadow on the Londoners. With Welbeck now out for the year, one might expect Joel Campbell to feature on the bench regularly, and with Giroud’s erratic form as well as Walcott’s visible discomfort leading the line, he might be in for a start sooner rather than later. If those troubles weren’t enough, Jack Wilshere seems to have had a setback too and will most probably be out for another month. With all this coming as a footnote to an indolent transfer window, the manager knows he as to deliver on the pitch– the pitch where Arsenal have scored only once in their last 5 matches. There is good news too, lest one forgets. Koscielny who missed France’s game against Serbia and Mertesacker who has been missing since the Liverpool game, are both fit for the visit of the Potters.
The back 5 is thus expected to be reinstated to the one that started the campaign with Gabriel, who has been more than decent whenever called upon, going back to the bench. Olivier Giroud who started the game versus Newcastle on the bench, is likely to spearhead the attack once again with Alexis and Ramsey in support and Ozil playing just behind. Coquelin and Cazorla will hope to continue their growing partnership at the heart of the midfield.
The major issue for Arsenal right now is how toothless their attack looks. With Alexis still recovering from a buzzing summer, the others haven’t really picked up the baton. With Ramsey being deployed on the right, there is no width on offer with Bellerin being the only active runner and obviously he is not expected to make diagonal runs. This results in a crowded centre with not many players on the go. With Alexis coming back from a good international break with Chile, one has to hope Arsenal’s player of the year last season provides the much needed impetus to the Arsenal attack.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Hart, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Ozil, Giroud.
Mark Hughes finally has some good news to work with after the dismal showing against West Brom. Bojan is back in contention for the trip to North London and despite niggling injuries to Diouf and Arnautovic, Hughes is positive on the duo’s availability. Ryan Shawcross too, is progressing well but will not feature on Saturday. Also Jonathan Walters who looked certain to leave the club has not only stayed, but the manager expects the Irishman to feature against Arsenal.
However, new boy Ibrahim Affelay remains suspended for this one and so does Charlie Adam and will most likely be replaced in the starting lineup by Walters and Whelan. The defence is expected to be the same with Glen Johnson passed fit. Marco van Ginkel will continue to anchor the midfield with help from Glen Whelan and this is one battle Stoke can’t afford to lose. With both players good on the ball, they will need to break the Arsenal buildups as often as possible and then spread the ball higher up the pitch for the attackers to break at pace. Arsenal tend to enjoy a lot of possession and also tend to lose the ball high up the pitch and this could make all the difference, if Stoke are to heap further misery on Arsene Wenger’s side.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Butland, Johnson, Muniesa, Cameron, Pieters, van Ginkel, Whelan, Walters, Shaqiri, Arnautovic, Diouf.
- Arsenal have scored once in their last 5 home matches, earning a grand total of 5 points out of a possible 15.
- Stoke City haven’t beaten Arsenal at Arsenal since 1984.
Player to Watch
With Asmir Begovic departing for Chelsea, Jack Butland has shown he can be a more than capable replacement for the Bosnian. His performance in the 1-1 draw against Norwich was spectacular to say the least and with Arsenal likely to have more of the ball and the better chances, the young Englishman will need to be at his very best. A defence that’s lacking the leadership of Shawcross, Stoke have conceded over 3.2 shots per game on target. In their last outing versus West Brom, Butland was the difference between an embarrassing scoreline and the 1-0 defeat Stoke escaped with, despite playing with 9 men. With Arsenal struggling for goals, this is another opportunity for Butland to shine.
Arsenal 2 Stoke 0
If the home turf hoodoo has to end, there cannot be a better time to do it. A weakened Stoke City side, a positive head to head record, Arsene Wenger’s men need to set the record straight with a comfortable win on Saturday night. 2-0 to Arsenal