16 January 2016

One does not simply walk into Mordor: Arsenal will waltz in and lay waste to Stoke!

Mordor. Orcs. Brittania. Potters. Our effete, wine-sipping dilettantes will flit and flutter about while being bashed, battered, and bruised. At least, those are the stereotypes that come to mind whenever Stoke face Arsenal. These days, however, it's closer to the truth to admit that Stoke under Mark Hughes have been playing some incisive, creative football—not that they have turned over a new leaf. They can still bring the physicality that can do so much damage, be it literal or figurative, to our squad. Players like Bojan, Shaqiri and Afellay have brought a new dimension to a Stoke side still accused of playing something closer to Gaelic rules than to footy.

After conceding a stoppage-time equaliser at Anfield to a hamstrung squad, we might welcome news that Shaqiri and Arnautovic have suffered some hamstring-issues of their own. Whether they've available or not, we know what to expect from to trip to face Stoke. The fans will be in full-throat, whether it be outrage at Ramsey or at the more-general sense that Gooners sneer at Potters. Mark Hughes, it must be noted, has a knack for outfoxing Arsène, and the two have an icy relationship that dates back even further than the Shawcross debacle. Stoke have been in fine form, sitting seventh just two points off of Man U, whom they blanked a few weeks back. For all of the intimidation that they try to inspire at home, though, Stoke are little better there than they are on the road.

At our end of things, we have to summon determination not disappointment from the result at Anfield. Most everyone dropped points this past week, but two consecutive draws, even on the road, could come back to haunt us later. I don't care much about being top of the table on 17 January, but three points on Sunday could go a long way towards being top in 15 May. We could see the return of Alexis or the debut of Elneny, but I'd be surprised in such a heated fixture. The increasingly confident Joel Campbell has earned a starting nod, even if that's default from the indifferent play of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Campbell is a poor-man's Alexis and is being dubbed this year's Coquelin. It's too early to pin high hopes to him, but he has made himself indispensable if not yet invaluable. We'll need his work-rate and spirit as we go into the hostile environs.

Stoke have been a bit leaky of late, conceding six goals in their last three. Even if they've been stingier at home, we should see be able to carve out enough chances to test Butland and even put a few past him.

LAST 3
Arsenal 2-0 Stoke (12.09.2015)
Arsenal 3-0 Stoke (11.01.2015)
Stoke 3-2 Arsenal (06.12.2014)

FACTFILE
Arsenal has failed to win in five trips to the Britannia Stadium, losing the last two.
Stoke seek a third consecutive Prem win at home.
Jonathan Walters has scored in three of his last home matches against Arsenal.

INJURIES
Wilshere is out. Although Welbeck, Rosický, Coquelin, and Cazorla have returned to training, none are fit or availabe. 

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerín; Flamini, Ramsey; Walcott, Özil, Campbell; Giroud.

There's more tenacity and grit in us than our stereotype suggests, and we houls put this one out of reach early.

PREDICTION Stoke 0-2 Arsenal