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Preview: Arsenal versus Stoke. 0-1 to the Arsenal?

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By Phil Gregory

Arsenal travel up to the lovely Britannia Stadium to play Stoke on Saturday, a ground that has produced fewer points than controversies for Arsenal in recent years. With Chelsea reaching the Champions League final, the push for third place has taken on a greater meaning than just getting one over Tottenham, given a Chelsea win against Bayern would mean fourth place became a Europa league spot.

In that battle, we’re three points ahead of Newcastle but they have a game in hand. Goal difference makes that gap effectively four points at this late stage, but I don’t fancy scraping Champions League football on goal difference, if it can be avoided. As I highlighted in an earlier preview, Newcastle’s fixtures are tough now, so dropping points is inevitable for the Toon I feel.

That doesn’t however remove the emphasis from Arsenal to secure our berth in Europe’s top competition by picking up the points required. I’ve often felt that half of Arsenal’s problem in the title challenges of recent years has been early slip ups forcing us to play catch up. In this third place race, we are now the pace setters and must set the bar as high as possible, winning our games, starting at Stoke.

The whole Pep Guardiola business at Barca is certainly interesting, to say the least. Part of the reason Cesc left is because he wanted to work with Pep, given Guardiola was a Barcelona legend in Cesc’s own midfield position. Yet now the man is gone; how things change.

Wolves could certainly learn a thing or two from Barca: Pep’s departure was announced and straight away they’ve got the replacement in. and days later, next season’s manager has been appointed. I do find it slightly strange that Pep is walking away because of the workload; to me that suggests a need to delegate more and use the staff at his disposal, or even expand the support staff if required. That said, others have mentioned the incessant glare of the media on football in Spain, with a stack of sports dailies needing their fill of the gossip may be too much pressure for him. If so, fair enough to the man. If that’s the case I’d imagine he’ll take a sabbatical and then look for a job somewhere other than Spain in the future.

Turning now to the injury news for the Stoke game, Abou Diaby has been ruled out of starting due to illness though Benayoun is of course available after being ineligible for the match versus Chelsea.

Szcznesy

Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen Santos

Song Coquelin

Rosicky

Walcott Van Persie Benayoun

I’m anticipating a few of changes for this match. Against Chelsea, Ramsey came in for the injured Arteta, but I’d give Coquelin the start versus Stoke if it were up to me. As Francis had been laid off prior to returning for Chelsea, I can understand not throwing him straight in but after an additional week of rest I think the Frenchman would be ideal coming in and playing Arteta’s deep role. He’s a naturally defensive player and so we wouldn’t risk unbalancing our midfield by asking someone like Ramsey or Rosicky to fill in closer to the defence. He could play a more disciplined, holding midfield role and allow Song to be slightly more adventurous to offset the loss of Arteta’s creativity.

I’d also slot Santos into the defence. I’m still not entirely sure of who is the better option out of Santos and Gibbs, and Arsène seems to use them interchangeably too. Gibbs is a slighter player though, and the mazy dribbling of Santos might come in handy at the other end of the field. Aside from that, the defence should be solid enough and strong enough in the air to survive Stoke’s usual onslaught. As ever, the key will be keeping the ball away from them to minimise their opportunities to punt the ball at our goal.

Benayoun comes in on the left after being ineligible versus Chelsea. There is a possibility that Wenger will go for Ramsey there, playing much deeper than my rough team sheet above would dictate, to help us in possession but really I think getting through the Stoke defence will be our primary concern: we need to win the game. Yossi is performing very well at the moment so I’d hand him the start, with the likes of Gervinho or Chamberlain ready to come off the bench if needed.

Stoke are a mixed bag this season. They invested relatively heavily in the summer with the idea of pushing on up the table, after securing themselves in the Premier League since their promotion. Yet they lie disappointingly – for them – 14th, below some of their recent league finishes despite the level of investment. The Britannia Stadium is not the fortress it was during their promotion year, and they have been beaten four times in the league at home to date. We should probably note that they have conceded only sixteen goals at home this year, so our lives would be made much easier if we didn’t concede first as scoring two may be a challenge.

With that in mind, I can’t see this match being one for neutral. It’ll probably be feisty, ill-tempered and aggressive as there is no love lost between the sides, and I can’t see there being more than one or two goals in it. If we open the scoring we might put a couple past them if they push on looking for an equaliser, but if they grab one and sit back we may lumber to a draw. I’m going to pitch my prediction somewhere between those two, and go for a 1-0 in to the Arsenal.

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19 comments to Preview: Arsenal versus Stoke. 0-1 to the Arsenal?

  • Bob A

    How is Walcott going to play?????

  • Matt Clarke

    Thank you for the analysis – another excellent Untold article.

    I agree that the Gibbs / Santos choice is a dilemma, and that, against Stoke, Santos edges it. He does seem the safer option against ‘robust’ opposition.

    Benyaoun back is great news. Who can remember another loanee fitting in so well?

    @Bob A: MotM – 2 assists and a brave performance despite the early ankle injury:)

  • ozed

    Theo is injured. Did his hamstring against Chelski.
    I guess the position would go to Gerv or Ox.

  • Arsenal victory surely and it’ll be St. Totteringham’s day.

  • Jacobite Gunner

    Bob A, the extra question marks are a bit excessive.

  • Shafiu

    Don’t you know Walcot is out injured? For least two weeks against Chelsea. Come on Ox to fill the position.

  • RedGooner

    Agree on the Walcott not playing but the scoreline is a little optimistic looking at our results at the brittania for the last 5 seasons ?

    Tony PS off subject are you doing an article on the Arsenal priing structure changes that maybe comming into effect and what do you think of them ?

  • RedGooner

    Sorry meant pricing structure ..

  • My bad, of course Theo is injured. Chambrlain in for walcott

  • RedGooner

    Phil might fancy Gervinhio to start on the right and Ox to come on for a change of pace if needed late on.

  • Coquelin alongside Song would be interesting, although I am not sure AW will want to start the young Frenchman in such a physical match after 2 months out

  • Interesting comment from the Guardian:

    “Arsène Wenger’s side have failed to win either of their last two games and with Newcastle, Tottenham, and Chelsea, likely to win this weekend, they cannot afford a slip-up in a fixture they have found tough going in recent seasons.”

    Nothing there about the fact that we are 3 points ahead and a failure to win by any of those three other teams could leave Arsenal in an unreachable position.

    You can see where the AAA get it from.

  • Jacobite Gunner

    Quite right Tony, that’s quite an assumption from the guardian that all 3 chasing teams will win. Wigan are making a mockery of that statement.

    a side note, arsenal are dominating Stoke and really should have been 2-1 up at half time-need to make our possesion count!

    -Ramsey is playing fantastic in the deeper midfield role! Might we have a player who can play in three positions quite adeptly (cm, atm, left forward? Great flexibility!

  • Jacobite Gunner

    VP cannot be expected to score all of our goals, really believe that ramsey, rosicky and especially Gervinho should be looking to score today. We were allover stoke but just could not make it count.

  • ak47

    stil in our hands thanx to wigan. hope bolton stay up tho. good point.

  • Arun

    Tony, each has winnable fixture. Wait, newcastle lost 4-0. Surely, it was winnable .

  • bob

    Jacobite Gunner,
    Hence Podolski?
    I think keeping RVP on side means at least another serious clinical striker for firepower. Then again, Theo and Arteta were out, hence further scoring obstacles. But they’re not enough imo. There’s hopes for Ryo, of course, but…

  • So some of that Guardian prediction is wrong – Newcastle to win eh?

  • Jacobite Gunner

    @bob,

    agreed