Arsenal will look to continue their push toward a top-four spot on Saturday against a Stoke City side that's faded in recent weeks. These are the matches the Gunners must win in order to earn a place in the Champions League.
The previous meeting between the sides came all the way back in August. It ended in a scoreless draw as the Arsenal offense was still developing chemistry after several major offseason changes. Defense-first Stoke was willing to accept their second of a now league-leading 12 draws.
A lot has changed since that game, which should lead to more excitement in the rematch. Here's a look at all the key viewing information for the clash, followed by players to watch and a prediction as the Gunners battle the Potters.
Where: Emirates Stadium in London, England
When: Saturday, Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. ET
Watch: Fox Soccer Plus
Live Stream: Fox Soccer 2Go
Arsenal Player to Watch: Olivier Giroud
Giroud is on fire. After a span of 12 appearances in which he found the net just twice, the 26-year-old striker has scored five times in the last three matches. It brings his total to 14 across all competitions in his first season with the Gunners.
His vast improvement is one of the major chances since these clubs last met. Giroud, along with Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, was still getting used to his new surroundings in August. Now all three of those players have settled into their roles.
In Giroud's case, he's playing with exponentially more confidence, especially over the last few weeks. There was never any question about his talent, but now that he's being more aggressive, fans are seeing what the France international is truly capable of.
When you factor in the back line's lack of top form, his contributions become even more important. That will continue against Stoke.
Stoke City Player to Watch: Asmir Begovic
Early in the season, Begovic and Stoke's steady back line made the Potters one of the toughest clubs in the Premier League to play against. Draws with Manchester City, Liverpool and the Gunners in which they allowed just one total goal illustrates that.
Begovic remains one of the league's most underrated goalkeepers, but the back line hasn't been nearly as reliable over the past month. It's led to a lot more matches with three and four goals against instead of clean sheets.
The 25-year-old Bosnian star, who became popular transfer fodder during January, possesses terrific athleticism, leading to numerous highlight-reel saves. But there's only so much he can do if he's not getting support from his defense.
Begovic can expect another heavy workload on Saturday with the Gunners desperate for three points. Stoke needs him to step up.
Matchup to Watch: Arsenal attack vs. Stoke back line
After plenty of concern in the early going about the Gunners' offense, it's turned out to be a strength for the club. While they don't have the star power of a Robin van Persie, they have enough depth to light up the scoreboard.
Along with the aforementioned trio of Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla, Theo Walcott has emerged as a winger who can be counted on to jump-start an offense every time out after being inconsistent in the early part of his career.
The Potters' defense must return to its early-season form to give the club a chance. Stoke have allowed six goals in their last three matches and, if that form persists, Arsenal will be able to cruise to an easy three points.
Arsenal 2, Stoke City 0
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