09 December 2016

Can Theo do to Stoke what Lucas did to Basel, what Alexis did to West Ham?

Arsenal brushed away any lingering disappointment of losing just our second match of the 2016-17 campaign in stirring style, erupting for nine goals over the following two matches to heap pressure on Chelsea to somehow sustain their form and to win our Champions League group over PSG. Finding that kind of form after sputtering a bit through November should come in handy as an old nemesis pays a visit: Stoke. Of course, the man at the helm these days has put more than a few over Arsène in his day. It's up to our lads to ensure that he can't do the same again on Saturday.

While Hughes does deserve credit for reducing the overall Orcishness of the Stoke squad, there are still a fair few of the old guard left. Although cartoonish villain #1 may be unavailable, Shawcross could still watch aas others like Charlie Adam and Jonathan Walters mug us on the pitch. The overhaul of the squad under Hughes is, in other words, not yet complete. Still, recent additions do pose a threat. Bojan, Shaqiri, and Arnautovic have been joined by the likes of Wilfried Bony and Joe Allen. In the process, Hughes has been grafting a more-dangerous offensive edge to the fierce defensive platform Stoke are renowned for (to be clear, "fierce" is offered as a polite euphemism for less-polite adjectives).  After a sputtering start to their season in which their only win in in their first nine matches was over Stevenage in the League Cup, they've now lost just once in their last nine, including a brave draw at Old Trafford in early October. In other words, they're likely to put up much more of a fight than West Ham ("we're already sizing up Championship sides for next year") and FC Basel ("we're chuffed just to have been included"). 

The risk of overconfidence at our end is likely to be just as much of a factor, with some Gooner wags wondering who will be the next to notch a hat-trick after Alexis and Lucas did so against West Ham and Basel. There's only one other player in the squad regularly referred to by his first name, and something tells me we shouldn't count on a hat-trick from Gabriel. I'm looking instead to Walcott, who's gone quiet of late but is also well-rested, having come on late against Basel. His pace and those fresh legs should pose a challenge to Stoke's left side. Erik Pieters is quick to pick up a foul or two, not to mention a booking, and he'll have to be careful against Walcott, who has shown a greater determination and desire to take defenders on. With Özil creating the chances, Walcott should be in for a very influential if not productive outing. 

LAST 3
Stoke 0-0 Arsenal (17.01.2016) 
Arsenal 2-0 Stoke (12.09.2015) 
Arsenal 3-0 Stoke (11.01.2015) 

FACTFILE 
The two clubs first clashed in a 1904 Division 1 match, a 2-1 win to Woolwich Arsenal.
Arsenal have a 100% record against Stoke in eight matches at the Emirates. The aggregate scoreline in these games is 19-3 to Arsenal. 
The last time Stoke won away over Arsenal was in 1981. 

INJURIES 
Cazorla, Welbeck, Debuchy, and Mertesacker have all been ruled out; Bellerín is short of fitness and unlikely to play. 

POSSIBLE STARTING XI Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mustafi, Jenkinson; Xhaka, Ramsey;  Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud. 

PREDICTION 
Expect a typically tense match, at least in the first 20 minutes, after which the Arsenal start to carve Stoke open. What are your thoughts? Am I too optimistic or too timid?