After a 3-3 draw at Liverpool in midweek, Arsenal face another tough test of their title credentials with this trip to Stoke.
It was difficult to assess if the match at Anfield showed Arsenal’s strength or fragility. They twice fought back from going behind to lead, only to allow the victory to slip away from them in the game’s dying moments.
This will be another indicator as to whether they have the strength to go all the way. Stoke have won their last two home games in the league, and have already beaten a number of the Premier League’s supposed bigger sides this season.
Mark Hughes’ men have built a fearsome reputation as giant slayers, and they will look forward to extending that record when Arsenal come to town.
Date: Sunday, January 17
Time: 4:15 p.m. GMT/11:15 a.m. ET
Location: Emirates Stadium, London
Television coverage: Sky Sports 1 / Sky Sports 1 HD (U.K. only), NBCSN and NBC Universo (U.S. only)
Streaming: Sky Go (U.K. only)
W (3-4) vs. Everton
L (2-1) vs. West Brom
L (0-1) vs. Liverpool
W (1-2) vs. Doncaster
W (3-1) vs. Norwich
L (4-0) vs. Southampton
W (2-0) vs. Bournemouth
W (1-0) vs. Newcastle
W (3-1) vs. Sunderland
D (3-3) vs. Liverpool
Although victory here would make this a third consecutive league win for Arsenal over Stoke, the Gunners will not be getting ahead of themselves. Arsene Wenger’s team have not won any of their last five visits to the Britannia Stadium, drawing twice and losing a further three.
The Gunners have also won just one of their last five away games. Stoke may feel the omens are pointing to another scalp.
Stoke City are understandably proud of their excellent record against Arsenal. Manager Hughes noted, per Sky Sports:
It's something that we're proud of. We've always caused good Arsenal teams here real problems, even before my time. It's something that we want to continue, something we have the capability of doing.
We may play in a slightly different way to other times when they've struggled here. In the last couple of occasions we've gone up against them at the Britannia, we've played a different type of football but still caused them problems.
Either way they know they're going to be in a game that's intense, with high quality, and questions will be asked of them.
However, it seems Wenger believes his men are ready for the challenge. His conviction stems from the fact that this is a more mature Arsenal team than many that have come to the Britannia before.
Last season was a particularly painful occasion for Arsenal, with Stoke putting three goals past them before half-time. After the game, Wenger was barracked by fans waiting for the team at Stoke train station. However, the Gunners boss does not anticipate a repeat one year on. The Gunners boss said, per Sky Sports:
First of all, when we had a very young team we had a style that was maybe a little bit rough for us and we could not always cope with it. Last year we went to Stoke with a very young defence - we had [Hector] Bellerin, [Calum] Chambers, [Damian] Martinez - and at the start of the game we got caught.
Petr Cech is 34, [Per] Mertesacker 30, [Laurent] Koscielny 30, [Nacho] Monreal 30... Before we did not have that level of experience and that helps a little bit.
But over the years they had a very efficient, traditional English style which nobody liked to play against and at home it is as well a very windy stadium.
I think it feels stronger. It is always a test Stoke and I believe our record goes against us but it is interesting as well because it is also a mental test to show we have moved forward and that we can deal with what Stoke offer.
If Arsenal can come through this test unscathed, their belief that this could be the year their long wait for a title ends will be strengthened.
Stoke will be without Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, who also missed the match against Norwich with a hamstring problem. No matter—his replacement, Spanish striker Joselu, shone on that day and is expected to retain his place in the side.
Geoff Cameron remains out with an ankle problem, but Marko Arnautovic should be fit to start after coming off against Norwich as a precautionary measure.
Predicted Stoke XI (4-2-3-1): Jack Butland; Glen Johnson, Ryan Shawcross, Philipp Wollscheid, Erik Pieters; Glenn Whelan, Ibrahim Afellay; Jonathan Walters, Bohan Krkic, Marko Arnautovic; Joselu
Wenger must decide whether or not to throw Alexis Sanchez back into the fray. The Chilean is back in full training after a hamstring injury, but the Arsenal boss seems unsure whether or not he is ready to play a full 90 minutes. The most likely scenario is that he starts on the bench, ready to step on to the field in case of emergency.
The same will surely be true of new signing Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian’s signing from Basel was secured earlier this week, and he is eligible to make his debut in this match.
However, it would be a very bold decision to throw him straight into the startling lineup. It’s more probable that he’ll make his first appearance for the club as a substitute.
Predicted Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey; Joel Campbell, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott; Olivier Giroud
Players to watch
Stoke: Jonathan Walters
Walters’ physical style is always a problem for Arsenal—and he’s in particularly good form at the moment. As well as having scored three times in his last five home games against the Gunners, he has notched in his last four Stoke appearances.
Mertesacker and Koscielny will have to be at their very best to keep the powerful Irishman at bay.
Arsenal: Olivier Giroud
The Frenchman was in outstanding form against Liverpool, providing a powerful focal point for his team and scoring twice.
There was a poor miss to account for, but that’s a relatively anomalous occurrence this season. With 18 goals already, Giroud is on target for his most prolific Arsenal season to date.
He’ll also be useful to Arsenal defensively—when Stoke launch set pieces in to the area, he can be very effective at marking the near post.