Arsenal vs. Stoke: 9 Things the Gunners Must Get Right to Win at the Emirates
Arsenal are finally showing signs of improvement after a torrid, embarrassing start to 2011/2012. The Gunners recently dispatched Sunderland thanks to Robin van Persie's brilliance, and an injury time winner from Aaron Ramsey saw Arsene Wenger's men defeat French giants Olympique de Marseille at the Stade Velodrome in the UEFA Champions League.
The North London giants are finally beginning to show more fluidity and confidence in their attack, whilst the previously fragile and injury decimated defensive line is showing signs of adaptability. However, Arsenal face a tough task against Stoke City this weekend at the Emirates.
The Potters have become somewhat of a bogey team for the Gunners since gaining Premier League status in 2008. Tony Pulis's men have twice defeated Arsenal in the Premier League, with Stoke's physical, tough approach having a tendency to restrict and frustrate the young Gunners.
However, Arsenal simply cannot afford anymore slip-ups in their campaign, Arsene Wenger's men only boast three victories from eight appearances in the EPL. Their rally to achieve a top four finish is still a considerable distance away, therefore it is vital the Gunners overcome opposition like Stoke City.
Bleacher Report establishes 10 things the Gunners need to get right at the Emirates on Sunday.
9. Johan Djourou and Per Mertesacker Have to Communicate
The Arsenal defensive line has been tormented with injuries this season.
Defensive leader Thomas Vermaelen was ruled out for two months in August following ankle surgery. Renowned Frenchman Bacary Sagna suffered a broken ankle against Tottenham at the beginning of October. England international Kieran Gibbs has had ongoing hamstring woes. Teenager Carl Jenkinson recently endured a hamstring injury, whilst Sebastien Squillaci, Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou have all suffered various problems.
With the two regular right backs, Sagna and Jenkinson, both absent due to their respective complaints, Frenchman Laurent Koscielny shifts from the centre of defence to the right back role. Imposing Swiss international Johan Djourou will be drafted in to partner Per Mertesacker in the centre half.
Djourou has only featured seven times this season, but has looked fragile and slow. The 24-year-old is lacking form and will be partnering Mertesacker for the first time. The defensive duo must ensure they communicate sufficiently, as Mertesacker is still adapting to English football following his deadline day move, whilst Djourou has the tendency to lose concentration and positioning.
Stoke are not renowned for their attacking prowess, but their aerial threat and physicality can easily get the better of the Gunners defense if they are not focused.
8. Restrict Jonathan Walters from Poaching
Despite the stereotype, Stoke City can indeed score goals, and one player who can prove that is frontman Jonathan Walters.
The 28-year-old, who joined the Potters last summer, has shown that he can find the goal following a stellar campaign last season of 46 appearances and twelve goals—including one against the Gunners.
The Republic of Ireland international is an impressive poacher, able to score from tight angles and latch on to crosses strongly. Walters' quick movements and decsive balls need to be contained by the Gunners' defensive line, as the former Wrexham sharp shooter will be one of Stoke's strongest attacking outlets.
7. Start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Ahead of Theo Walcott
There is no denying that Arsenal fans are frustrated with Theo Walcott. The England international has struggled recently in the Premier League, largely due to his inability to provide adequate crosses and clinical finishing.
The 22-year-old is devastatingly quick but rarely enforces his assets to the Arsenal attack. The Englishman does boast three goals in 12 appearances, but fans have voiced their desire to see more of teenage sensation Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The 18-year-old was one of the most chased young prospects in England before a £15 million move from Southampton in the summer. Chamberlain is quick, composed and has impressed with both his deliveries and finishing.
The teenager has scored on both his starts for Arsenal, furthermore Chamberlain is returning from scoring a hat-trick for the England U-21 side during the international break.
With Walcott out of form and Chamberlain in red hot fashion, it really is a difficult choice for Arsene Wenger.
6. Play More Ground Football Rather Than Aieral Attack
Stoke City possess a tough, no-nonsense defensive line that routinely dominate the air, while Arsenal are notoriously weak at set pieces and lack aerial abilities. With a large aspect of Wenger's attack coming from wide crosses from the full backs, this tactic is unlikely to achieve much success against the Potters.
Tony Pulis's first choice defensive partnership of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross possess impressive strength and size, but lack speed and balance to effectively deal with incisive passing and movement that the Gunners can produce.
Arsenal need to play sharp, persistent football and routinely try to crack the Stoke defence down the middle.
5. Restrict Mattew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant's Space
Stoke also boast a very threatening array of wingers, including English pair Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington. The two will provide the spark for the Potters, and due to their impressive speed and balance alongside a strong ability to provide effective crosses, the Gunners will have to be wary.
It is vital that both the midfield and full backs work tirelessly to prevent Etherington and Pennant, a former Arsenal star, from gaining large amounts of space—as the pair's ability to run and cross could provide the difference.
4. Contain Either Kenwyne Jones or Peter Crouch
Tony Pulis has one of the best aerial threats in the Premier League thanks to the presences of Kenwyne Jones and Peter Crouch. Jones at 6' 2" and Crouch at 6' 7" ensure that Stoke have a distinct advantage in the air. Unfortunately, Gunners defensive line is notoriously weak at defending crosses and set pieces.
There is no denying the Potters will aim to enforce their attacking aerial dominance but fortunately Per Mertesacker and Johan Djourou both posses imposing figures capable of dealing with Crouch or Jones. However, the duo will have to be at their best to contain Stoke's aerial threat.
3. Ensure the Midfield Handles Stoke's Physical Approach
Stoke's tactic will be to enforce their physical presence on the Gunners, hoping to restrict their creativity and attacking fluency. This is a tactic that many teams adopt when encountering Arsenal, however, there is no denying Arsene Wenger's men have somewhat improved in handling physical teams.
However, the midfield must ensure they deal with the Potters tough onslaught in order to maintain their attacking flair. Failure to do so will result in Stoke gaining a psychological edge which will hurt the Gunners—and most are aware of what occurs when the Gunners lose confidence.
2. Ensure Robin Van Perise Receives as Much Ball as Possible
The Arsenal captain is the attacking heart and soul, and will be the key to an Arsenal victory. Since 2011 commenced, the Dutchman has secured 27 goals in 35 appearances for the Gunners—and his brace against Sunderland last week provided the difference.
The fearless leader must see as much ball as possible as, at times, the 28-year-old has a tendency to become anonymous in matches due to his lack of involvement. If this requires van Persie playing in a more midfield role, rather than the lone striker, then so be it—just as long as Robin van Persie has the ball.
1. Deal with Rory Delap's Long Throws
Stoke's most effective attacking move, Rory Delap's long throw, has tormented almost every Premier League team.
The Gunners are one of the worst equiped sides to cope with Delap's giant throw and the organisation Stoke utilize when preparing for the Irishman's assault has most teams in disarray.
If Arsenal want to win they must deal with Rory Delap's long throw.