Stoke v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: December 6th, 2014 1500 GMT
Personally, I hate bombastic headlines but the one for today’s clash picked itself. Two seasons ago – with Tony Pulis in charge – Stoke used to be a pure negation of what Arsenal under Arsene Wenger have been. An average Stoke player used to be a 1.85 m+ tall lumberjack without any trace of flair, capable only of mutilating opponents with hard tackling that was allowed by the referees. Even when they tried to change that and signed a player that had a history of flair, they signed Michael Owen to keep the douche-bag factor between 90 and 100 percent. The Orcs of football have been one of the most difficult opponents for us – we haven’t beaten them away from home since that day when Ryan Shawcross nearly put an end to Aaron Ramsey’s career.
Our last visit to the Britannia ended in a defeat which effectively ended our title challenge. We were beaten thanks to Jonathan Walters’ penalty conceded by Laurent Koscielny’s handball. However, things would have gone in a different direction had the referee sent off Charlie Adam for his tackle on Giroud when the score-line was still 0:0. Adam was given a post hoc three-match-ban but we lost three points. It’s true that we didn’t perform well either – not before Wenger sent Özil and Sanogo onto the pitch at least.
This visit to Britannia comes only ten days after we beat Borussia Dortmund in Champions’ League. We have won three in a row without conceding a goal but with an injury-depleted defence and midfield, it’s going to be a big task for us to leave The Orcham Asylum with all three points as well. I rarely settle for a draw against teams of Stoke’s stature but I admit it wouldn’t be the worst outcome if we draw today. Yes, Stoke haven’t been that hard at home since Mark Hughes had taken over from Tony Pulis and their playing style tends to be a little bit less physical than it used to be but they will probably have the referee’s decisions in important moments on their side.
Today’s referee is, ladies and gentlemen, Anthony Taylor. During matches against Sunderland and Aston Villa in 2013 Taylor allowed hard-tackling on our players (especially Wilshere), gave red cards to our players and failed to sanction brutal fouls from our opponents in a proper manner. So today, a red card for Flamini for breathing too loud, a penalty given for Stoke after Ryan Shawcross’ handball in Stoke penalty box with a possible booking for Mertesacker and a yellow card for diving for Alexis after Charlie Adam breaks his ankle should not come as a surprise.
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Our team will have to go through some changes after winning three matches without conceding once.
Even if there is a persistent rumour that Wenger might opt for Szczesny for such a big game, I’d stick with Martinez. Whilst he lacks experience, he has a more impressive physical presence in the box than Szczesny and that might be one of the most important aspects of today’s game – defending set-pieces.
Nacho Monreal’s injury gives us all a headache. Debuchy is still short for this match and you don’t want your recently recovered player to return at the Britannia while Koscielny might miss the game too. I still think Kos will play next to Mertesacker with Chambers on the right full-back position and Kieran Gibbs down the left. Now, Assaidi might be a difficult opponent for Chambers due to his pace just like Montero was in the Swansea match so Wenger might opt for Bellerin instead. Koscielny’s health will decide.
Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey will start in the middle. Tomas Rosicky is out due to thigh problems so our midfield is really short in options. Santi Cazorla will play down the middle and hopefully keep the good form running. Oxlade-Chamberlain will have to molest Pieters with pace and aggression as much as possible but The Ox himself has had injury problems lately so Wenger might opt for keeping him on the bench. Alexis Sánchez has been immense this term and needs some rest so I’d even guess he’ll be on the bench for this game. Lukas Podolski or Danny Welbeck would occupy his place down the left flank (with the latter being a more realistic option) and Olivier Giroud would be the ideal choice for the main striker due to his physical presence. In our match two seasons ago at the Britannia we managed to keep a clean sheet and I was happy with Giroud being our player – the Frenchman made the opponents’ set-pieces far less dangerous than they used to be.
I rarely predict draws and it usually doesn’t come up well for us so I’d say 1:0 for us (but I actually mean it will probably end 1:1 with Podolski to score for us today and Anthony Taylor to equalize with a header and earning a yellow card for inappropriate celebration).
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 01 Mar 2014 Stoke 1 – Arsenal FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 22 Sep 2013 Arsenal FC 3 – Stoke 1
Premier League (EPL) 2 Feb 2013 Arsenal FC 1 – Stoke 0
Premier League (EPL) 26 Aug 2012 Stoke 0 – Arsenal FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 28 Apr 2012 Stoke 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Chambers Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Gibbs
Chamberlain Cazorla Welbeck
Physicals 0 v 1 Flair