Stoke City vs. Arsenal: Complete Preview, Team News and Projected Starting XI
Arsenal haven't won at the Britannia Stadium in four seasons, where they play the Potters on Sunday at 13:30 kick off time.
In April, Arsenal had to settle for a one-all draw with Stoke City after Peter Crouch put the hosts ahead in the ninth minute.
Arsenal's immediate response in the 15th minute through Robin van Persie—after excellent work by Yossi Benayoun and a well-measured crossed from the left flank by Tomas Rosicky—suggested that there would be more goals to come in that match, but it wasn't to be.
As you can see from the following table, Arsenal tend to prevail at home against Stoke but struggle away.
What complicates matters for Arsenal is the missed opportunity against Sunderland in the opener last Saturday, a fact that intensifies pressure to win this weekend, since failure to do so means that Arsenal could find themselves well behind their immediate top-four rivals.
If Manchester City win, as did Chelsea on Wednesday, they'll be on six points to Arsenal's two or one. The same will be the case for Newcastle United, who won against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. If Spurs win this weekend, they'll be on three points to Arsenal's two or one.
The best scenario for Arsenal, therefore, is victory Sunday, even though the other two outcomes wouldn't by any means be the end of the road for the team this early in the season. There's a long way to go yet in the season.
However, the advantage of an early good start cannot be underestimated. At the same time, to panic after just two games would be foolish.
Arsenal triumphed over Stoke City last October at the Emirates. Getty Images.
Having missed the Sunderland game with a back injury, Fabianski should be in the squad for the Stoke City game. At the press conference on Friday (via arsenal.com), Wenger said Fabianski had a test on Thursday and that "he should be OK."
After missing the Sunderland game due to an ankle knock, AOC is expected to be in the squad for Stoke City, though he's unlikely to start.
At the press conference on Friday, Wenger said: "He should be back in the training group from Friday. He has not practiced with the team yet. But he should be in the squad for Stoke."
Koscielny is out with a calf injury and will not be in the squad for Stoke City. He is expected to feature in next week's game against Liverpool.
Wilshere isn't expected to return for another month. The earliest he can be back is some time in October. Personally I think the realistic time for a full return is December, but that's just trying to avoid being overoptimistic.
Frimpong, who is out with at knee injury, is ahead of the schedule to get back. According to Wenger (via arsenal.com), "He is three weeks until he is training that is a bit ahead of schedule. It is very good. We think he will be back competitively in October."
Szczesny has a minor rib problem and will be assessed for his fitness for the match.
Rosicky and Sagna
There is good news for both Tomas Rosicky (tendon) and Bacary Sagna (leg). Both are back running; both are about a month away to full return.
Based on the above, we should expect the following lineup from Arsenal for the Stoke game on Sunday.
The graphic is by The Guardian and since I do not disagree with the lineup, I felt no need to create my own. What's more, it suggests Stoke City's lineup as well.
The only change I can expect here is Olivier Giroud starting in place of Lukas Podolski. Giroud's height and ability to hold the ball could be of great help to Arsenal here. However, don't be surprised to see Wenger sticking with Podolski.
Other options could be Podolski starting wide left in the false 11 position. This would mean either that Gervinho wouldn't be starting, or that he'd start on the right flank in place of Theo Walcott.
What to Expect from Stoke City
The problem Arsenal will definitely have with Stoke City is their direct balls over the top in an attempt to eliminate Arsenal's midfield. This utilizes the ability of the front two to hold up the ball.
In fact, Stoke City utilizes what I call a "relay method," whereby they launch the ball (mostly aerial) from the back to any of the front men. The targeted man holds up the ball with his back to Arsenal's goal. (And it doesn't matter how faraway. It can even be in the midfield.)
He then passes back to the onrushing help and then peels off to run into space. This is normally done diagonally, tending to be right or left of the Arsenal defense, and where the person expects to head back the ball into Arsenal's danger area after receiving it again.
Stoke City will look to use their physicality and their height advantage against Arsenal. Getty Images.
Receiving the ball with the back to the goal is usually done while putting pressure on the opposition's defenders. This is a tight-marking situation that Fulham are also known for. And here is where Arsenal could be in trouble.
Thomas Vermaelen doesn't tend to fare well when closely marked. Most of the defensive errors one can recall him making come from close marking. Recall his errors at QPR last season. They came from being pressured by Bobby Zamora.
Another big problem Arsenal will face is the height of Peter Crouch.
His goal at the last meeting of the two teams came as a result of besting Vermaelen in the air. It isn't saying anything smart to state that Stoke will exploit this strength against the Arsenal defense.
Stoke City are also known for their efficiency with set pieces. Their equalizing goal against Arsenal in October last season came from a well-worked set piece.
It is usually swung diagonally away from the goal and headed back toward goal by one of their target men. This is exactly how they got their goal in October. Arsenal need to be aware of this and come up with a strategy to stop this from being fatal.
Arsenal's strength lies in possession. For it to be effective, it mustn't be surrendered needlessly in the midfield. Teams are most vulnerable when they surrender possession.
They tend to do well when the opposition has the ball, since they can always maintain their shape. Whereas in the former situation, the team isn't in position to maintain good shape.
Possession, thus, will be Arsenal's best defensive weapon. It will, of course, be the team's offensive weapon. But to come away with victory here, Arsenal need to be clinical with their chances.
I expect more cohesion in the final third, an improvement over last week's performance.
There are some matches in which conditions just combine to your advantage. If that happens here, Arsenal could win quite easily. Let's hope that this happens.
In this event I wouldn't be surprised by a 3-1 scoreline in favor of Arsenal. The most likely outcome though is a one-all draw.
Arsenal should have had a penalty at the Britannia last April. It is one of the conditions Arsenal would hope to favor them on Sunday. Getty Images.
Arsenal appear to have lost out on Nuri Sahin to Liverpool. The Guardian offers the following reason for this:
Crucially, Liverpool have offered to pay more of Sahin's £120,000-a-week wage at Real than Arsenal have. They have also been helped by Rodgers' relationship with his former manager at Chelsea, José Mourinho, and the Spanish champions' reluctance to loan the German-born player to a club in the Champions League.
At Friday's press conference Arsene Wenger did not discount additional signings to Arsenal. He however chose his words very carefully:
My approach is that we have a very strong squad but if one or two opportunities arise we will take it,
We are still in the market in some positions. We have experienced players in midfield like Arteta, Cazorla and Rosicky plus some young very promising players like Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Coquelin and one or two in between age-wise like Diaby, who is coming back.
We will only take players who have something special. We believe we have a very strong team and if we find the special player, we will do it.
There's always a lot going on in the last week - in and out. We have some players who can go out, but overall there is always something happening in the last week. I have a clear idea of what I want to do, if it happens, it happens.
My opinion is that when you hear Wenger using words such as "special players," "big" or "strong squad," just know that you're unlikely to see any new signings.
Only real pressure causes Wenger to dive into the transfer market, and since Arsenal are not under such pressure at this time, there's no incentive for any new signings, although it should be apparent that Alex Song should be replaced.
Nuri Sahin. Getty Images.
Talking of Song, Wenger had this to say at the press conference.
The reason [we sold him] was we had the opportunity to sell him, he wanted to go and we had the players in place who can replace him. I have taken Song when nobody knew him, and I can show you some papers who said it was the worst buy I had ever made. He finished in Barcelona, so the Club has done a very good job for him. He has developed very well here. He had an opportunity to go to Barcelona, he wanted to take it. We agreed to let him go, but that was not linked with his attitude at all.
Like he has done before, he emphasizes the excellent work he did in grooming Song, but adds to this a response to the rumors about why Song has been sold.
It "was not linked with his attitude at all," he says, although, of course, those who have accepted this narrative can argue that it is the diplomatic thing to say. Well...we have to forget about Song and move on.
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