Despite the fact the Potters are sitting in 14th place and a mere three points above the relegation zone, this will be an exceptionally difficult game for Arsenal. Stoke is an extraordinarily difficult place to play, especially for the Gunners, who have a bit of history there.
Most notably, of course, was Ryan Shawcross' snapping of Aaron Ramsey's leg in two places almost exactly four years ago. February 27, 2010 nearly spelled the end of Ramsey's top-flight football career, but the Welshman overcame the many obstacles that faced him in his comeback to become an integral part of Arsenal's title chase this season.
Ramsey will not make the trip, of course, as he is still recovering from an injury that has sidelined him since December. Yet Stoke's fans promised him a harsh reception via John Drayton of the Daily Mail; one that will be difficult to mete out, one would think, when the player is hours away.
Anyway, that is merely a sideshow. Arsene Wenger will be focused on preparing his team to deal with Stoke's battering-ram defense and putting out a lineup appropriate to deal with their known aerial threat.
Here's what Arsenal's starting XI might look like.
The most notable change in the squad from how it has appeared all season is the placement of Thomas Vermaelen at left back.
Arsenal are unlucky to not know whether both Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal are fit, as both are excellent left-backs and the team does not lose much when one starts instead of the other.
But Vermaelen's return from injury is timely, as he is able to slot into the left side of the defense and provide decent attacking support while providing more help on set pieces.
The disenfranchised Belgian might actually be a better tactical fit than either Gibbs or Monreal against a side like Stoke because the Potters do not have any speedy wingers and will not try to use guile to get in behind.
Rather, they will try to wear Arsenal down with crosses and free-kicks into the penalty box to create chaos and allow their massive forwards and midfielders to overpower the Gunners' defense.
To counteract this brute-force strategy, Wenger would do well to start Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Each add physicality that would not be provided by their potential replacements in Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski, respectively.
Perhaps the Ox has less brawn than the others, but he can certainly put in a shift on the right flank and will be supported by two very combative teammates who will hopefully allow him to use his pace and skill on the ball to beat Stoke's defense.
The dynamos will really have to work to allow Mesut Ozil space to roam and exercise his creative nous. One can be sure the Potters will specifically target the German, who has had a week-and-a-half of rest since his tepid performance against Bayern Munich.
This is exactly the sort of opponent against whom Ozil is supposed to founder. He is languid, thin and lazy, the line goes, and brutish sides like Stoke are perfectly suited to marginalize and frustrate him.
But Ozil had considerable success against Stoke when Arsenal played them in September (and he had not yet been a Gunner for a month then). Similarly positive displays against Sunderland and Aston Villa should give Gunners fans confidence.
If he starts to fire, Stoke will surely end up tackling at air.
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