Arsenal vs Stoke: 5 Predictions for the Premier League Clash
Stoke City has proved a tough place to travel for the Gunners, and previous visits can testify: they drew 1-1 there last season, and lost 3-1 the season before. Stoke have turned Britannia Stadium into a fortress, and it's a feat for any team to go there and grab all three points.
Although they come from opposite sides of the country and often opposite sides of the table, Arsenal and Stoke have developed quite the rivalry in the past few seasons. Besides the leg-breaking tackle from Ryan Shawcross on Aaron Ramsey back in the 2009-10 season that sidelined the youngster for a year, the real reason behind this rivalry is the clash of styles.
While Arsenal are known for their free-flowing, attacking football played on the ground, Stoke's playing style consists of hoofing the ball up the pitch until it finds it's way in the back of the net.
This is always a feisty encounter, so here are five predictions for the Premier League clash.
Thomas Vermaelen Will Score
As the Gunners' new captain following the departure of Robin van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen will play a key role in Arsenal's 2012-13 campaign, with the responsibility of organizing the back four and shoring up the defense.
Thomas Vermaelen will be, in my opinion, Arsenal's most important player against Stoke. Tony Pulis' lineup will consist of 11 big, strong men, and it'll be Vermaelen's job to win headers and muscle the likes of Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters off the ball.
But Vermaelen also has some responsibility on the other end of the pitch. Known for his attacking prowess as a centre-back, "The Verminator," as he's called by Arsenal supporters, will be the man to add some physicality to Arsenal's game against Stoke and could definitely be a goal scorer.
I see Vermaelen getting his first goal of the 2012-13 season for Arsenal, in all likelihood heading one in off a corner or set piece.
Arsenal Will Have 70 Percent of Possesion
Like I said earlier, Arsenal vs Stoke is always a clash of styles.
Last season, Arsenal had the highest average possession with 59.6 percent, while Stoke had the lowest average possession with 39.9 percent (stats from whoscored.com). As usual, Arsenal will control this match and attempt to pass Stoke to death, waiting patiently for the moment to unlock Stoke's resilient defense.
On the other hand, Stoke will look to shut out Arsenal's attack and keep their forwards at bay for 90 minutes, playing for the draw but hoping for a goal against the run of play from a set piece or counter attack. It's the strategy most midtable teams take when they come up against Arsenal, with Sunderland doing it successfully last weekend in the 0-0 draw.
Possession doesn't always bring goals, but either way I see Arsenal dominating this game with at least 70 percent of possession.
Olivier Giroud Will Start and Score
Last weekend, Olivier Giroud made his Arsenal debut after coming on in the second half against Sunderland. Given the chance to score the winner after Santi Cazorla played him through on goal, Giroud missed the target completely with a pretty appalling miss.
This time around, I see things happening differently. At 6'4", Olivier Giroud is strong in the air and can give Arsenal a physical edge in addition to their possession game on the floor. If there's any game where Arsenal need some extra physicality, it's Stoke away, so I'm hoping and predicting that Giroud will get the start.
Even against Stoke he'll be one of the taller players on the pitch, so I'm expecting Giroud to be a menace up front and get his first goal for Arsenal.
Things tend to get heated when Arsenal and Stoke face off, so I'm expecting there to be plenty of bookings for both sides.
That bitterness from the Ryan Shawcross tackle on Aaron Ramsey a few seasons ago still resides when these teams meet, and each side seems to have an extra incentive to win when they play, like they're battling for more than just three points.
Like most rivalries, tempers will be flaring and it could be bookings galore, with fouls, yellow cards, and maybe even a red.
Santi Cazorla Will Be Man of the Match Again
One of the few positives to take away from Arsenal's disappointing 0-0 draw last weekend was Santi Cazorla's performance.
The exciting new signing from Malaga lived up to his hype even though the Gunners couldn't score, as he was at the heart of every Arsenal's attack and was rightfully awarded the Man of the Match. Technically gifted, small and good with both feet, Cazorla is the antithesis of a Stoke City player.
It's nice to see technical players like Cazorla take hold of a match like Stoke away and make an impact on the game while sticking to his own style, and I think the Spaniard will do just that tomorrow. Expect him to get a few assists and control the tempo of the game along with compatriot Mikel Arteta.