11 September 2015

Match Preview: Arsenal vs. Stoke

After a long, long, international break, we return at long last to Prem action. Count your blessings that no one got hurt—unless you count the revelation that Welbeck will be out until December as “news.” Aside from that, there’s much to grumble over as we saw the transfer-window slam shut without any dramatic deadline-day deals to delight us. As if on cue, a hated rival invades the Emirates to dent our ambitions—literally if not figuratively.

Stoke seem to be off to a slow start, even by their own standards, but they’ve been busy little Orcs in the transfer-window, bringing in Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay, and Glen Johnson, among others, while selling Asmir Begovic. You might think that doing business with the likes of Inter, Barca, Liverpool, and Chelsea might indicate ambitions just a bit higher than the relegation-zone, but that is where Mark Hughes’s squad finds itself, winless after four matches. Part of this position could reflect the bedding-in process of those new signings; it could also reflect the absence of mainstays such as Ryan Shawcross and Charlie Adams. Shawcross is still recovering from back surgery, while Adams joins Afellay is serving suspensions from red-cards earned against West Brom. Add these factors to the loss of Begovic, and Stoke appear to be a shell of their former selves.

Then again, we’ve hardly come out of the gates like bats out of hell—we still have yet to score at the Emirates, and our leading scorer on the season is Own Goal, with two goals scored. Tired jokes aside, we have shrugged off the shocker against West Ham on opening day in order to deliver tolerable if not dominant results. For a squad as strangely toothless as ours has been, we are still above Liverpool, Southampton, Chelsea, and Tottenham. After a preseason brimming with optimism, we seem to have suffered a bit of a letdown—but we do look primed to hit the ground running after the international break.

LAST 3
Arsenal 3-0 Stoke (11.01.2015)
Stoke 3-2 Arsenal (06.12.2014)
Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (01.03.2014)

FACTFILE
The two clubs first clashed 1904, a 2-0 win to Stoke.
Stoke lost in their last eight trips to the Emirates.
Despite the intensity of this rivalry, there has one been just one red card issued in the last six matches—against Arsenal.

INJURIES
Rosický, Wilshere, and Welbeck are all out. Mertesacker faces a late fitness test.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Gabriel, Koscielny, Bellerín; Cazorla, Coquelin; Alexis, Özil, Ramsey; Giroud.

All bets are usually off when it comes to playing Stoke, but the Potters are a few cards short of a full deck.

PREDICTION Arsenal 3-0 Stoke.