We face Stoke today and this presents us with a chance to go top of the league, at least temporarily. Chelsea don’t play till Sunday, but there’s another hitch though: we’ll have to beat Stoke by three or more goals to go top.
This doesn’t look too big an ask when you take into account the recent history between the two: Arsenal have won all eight previous league matches against the Potters at the Emirates, scoring 19 in the process and conceding just three.
However, Stoke are in fine form right now. After starting the season in an abysmal fashion (three points in seven games, no wins), Stoke went on to win five out of the next seven and picked 16 points during that run. Hughes’ side managed to keep four clean sheets in the process.
So this game, like pretty much any game in the Premier League, has to be approached carefully, with players fully concentrated on the task ahead. Let’s see who we’ll have available for selection.
Team news update
“From Tuesday night we have no injuries, I hope. Everyone looks to have recovered well. Coming back into the squad, we have Coquelin who was of course suspended and maybe Bellerin who has a test today.” – Arsene Wenger
Hooray! The news of Hector being ready, or almost ready, really made my day. Naturally, we should exercise caution with the Spaniard, Gabriel can deputise for one or two more games, but the important thing here is that Bellerin should definitely return for our clash vs City in a week. Fingers crossed we’ll see him today already.
Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck are still a couple of weeks away from full fitness and that’s pretty much it. Cazorla’s operation went well, Debuchy is still out.
Cech and Mustafi will be reinstated for sure, Bellerin will also play if passed fit, but I’m really interested in whether Monreal will start. Gibbs had a fine game on Tuesday, basically making the first three goals and I wonder whether that will affect the manager’s thinking. It looks like Gibbs has some kind of verbal agreement with the gaffer, as he played almost exclusively in all the cups, but made only four league appearances, three from the bench. So my money’s on Monreal starting on the left.
The midfield is once again a more-or-less open question. Ozil will start naturally, and I think Xhaka has finally cemented his place, something his performances thoroughly merit, but will it be Coquelin or Ramsey next to the Swiss? Ramsey had a much more disciplined outing against Basel, plus Arsene might reason he doesn’t need two holding midfielders against Stoke at home. Think there’s a good chance we’ll see Xhaka and Ramsey start together.
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The front three is the most intriguing bit. Any combination of Giroud, Alexis, Walcott, Perez, Oxlade and Iwobi can stake a claim at a starting berth. At a push, I’d go for Alexis, Walcott and Oxlade, however I may be entirely wrong here. My reasoning is that Alexis is in great form, Oxlade has been preferred to Iwobi lately, while Walcott has a bit of a free pass owing to great form earlier in the season. At the same time, Giroud can be a better option against a static Stoke defense, Iwobi has been great in the last two weeks when given the chance (Southampton, Basel), while Perez has just scored a hat-trick and looked absolutely lethal. Something we’ve been missing with Theo recently.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Xhaka – Ramsey – Walcott – Ozil – Oxlade – Alexis
If we keep up our current form, as in playing quick entertaining football, I can’t see us dropping points here. While we have certainly been less stellar at home than away (for the most part), it’s worth remembering the Liverpool loss makes the only difference in league points earned at the Emirates or away – 14 home points against 17 away.
Besides, as I’ve outlined above, Stoke generally make for comfortable opposition at our ground. Yes, our record at Britannia Stadium is appalling, but we don’t go there till May. The only trick for our players today is to take nothing for granted and play at our usual level of concentration.
So come on you Gunners.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch the game, but I’ll do my best to cover the midweek one to make up for it. So back on here soon anyway … I hope.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.