Football vs Rugby. The Artists vs The Butchers. The Hobbits vs The Orcs. The Fine Young Lad Aaron Ramsey vs The Hideous Ugly Toothless Charlie Adam. It’s not just a football match when Stoke come to town – it’s more than that. It’s like a sci-fi spectacle which always ends with a victory for the good guys (twelve straight victories at home for The Gunners).
And, there is a bit of pay-back time in this one. A month ago we lost at the Britannia Stadium against The Potters. They had a three-goal-lead before Cazorla’s penalty and Ramsey’s volley gave us a life-line. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time and freshness to make a complete come-back – being down to ten men after Chambers’ second yellow card didn’t help either.
This time we should be the winning side. We are the better team and our not-so-long ago decimated midfield got a huge boost over the week with Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil all back in the squad. Laurent Koscielny is also set for a return after missing the game against Hull as well as Olivier Giroud after the three-match-ban following the red card against QPR. This makes Danny Welbeck, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere the most notable absentees. Given our injury standards this term, it’s like having a complete squad with five new signings.
After losing the game against Southampton we don’t have any space to make mistakes, especially at home. The fact that Spuds slipped up against Crystal Palace yesterday means we will leap-frog them with a victory over The Potters and watch the game between Manchester United and Southampton without stress. Liverpool are just one point behind us so winning the game over Stoke would mean the gap remains four points which is important knowing our next game is at the Etihad against Manchester City while Liverpool play struggling Aston Villa away from home.
Our team for today’s match gets more difficult to predict as Arsene Wenger has more options on his disposal.
It’s a dilemma whether to go again with David Ospina between the sticks or expect Wojciech Szczesny to return. The Colombian needs a run of games to show his class but his height might make Wenger opt for Szczesny instead who dealt really well with crosses against West Ham two weeks ago.
Mathieu Debuchy is a strong option for the right side. He’ll have to prevent the crosses from his side and watch out for Bojan’s cuts inside.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are supposed to start in the middle. Peter Crouch’s goal-scoring record against us is rather impressive but Per & Kos should be able to keep him at bay.
Kieran Gibbs didn’t give the best performance at the Britannia last month but he wasn’t fully fit for the game. Now he should be able to do a much better job in preventing the visitors from sending in crosses and in giving our attack width.
Aaron Ramsey has a special motivation against Stoke and might make a return in the starting line-up. Wenger can opt for Tomas Rosicky as well – The Czech usually puts in impressive performances after the New Year.
Francis Coquelin should add the battling mentality to our midfield. He should be cautious with his tackling though – it’s not like the referees are going to spare him for his two-footed challenges. Mathieu Flamini is also back so he might get the nod ahead of his compatriot.
Theo Walcott gave a promising performance against Hull despite the obvious lack of sharpness. His touch might be too heavy at the moment but his pace is always an asset that makes him a dangerous option down the flank. If Wenger thinks that Theo is not ready for a second consecutive start, he might give a chance to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Alexis Sánchez has been our best player this season and is one of the best in the world at the moment. The Chilean is about to take his place on the left wing again and will pose the biggest threat for my compatriot Asmir Begović.
Santi Cazorla has been impressive lately and his string of quality performances started in the game against Stoke. He looks very sharp at the moment and should play from the start while Mesut Özil – who is back from an injury – can wait for his chance on the bench. It should be mentioned that the German created all three goals for us in this fixture last term from set-pieces though.
Olivier Giroud – after his own act of stupidity against QPR – should make amends by scoring a goal or two today. He will have a huge role in defending set-pieces as well.
It’s not easy to predict a final score today but we should win the game – 4:1 for us with Alexis scoring twice, Cazorla to score a penalty between Alexis’ goals and Giroud to get on the score-sheet as well. Crouch to score for the visitors. It’s well-known that set-pieces have been our weakness this season and Stoke’s strongest spot so here is a funny fact – the last four Arsenal goals scored against Stoke at the Emirates have been scored from set-pieces.
Head to head
Premier League (EPL) 6 Dec 2014 Stoke 3 v Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 1 Mar 2014 Stoke 1 v Arsenal FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 22 Sep Arsenal FC 3 v Stoke 1
Premier League (EPL) 2 Feb Arsenal FC 1 v Stoke 0
Premier League (EPL) 26 Aug 2012 Stoke 0 v Arsenal FC 0
Debuchy Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Gibbs
Walcott Cazorla Alexis
Arsenal FC 4 v 1 Stoke