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Arsenal vs Stoke preview: Fight! Fight! Fight!

Billed as

The one where there's no love lost. 

ARSENAL FORM

Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)

Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool (Prem)

Palace 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)

Arsenal 0-2 West Ham (Prem)

Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (C Shield)

STOKE FORM

Stoke 0-1 WBA (Prem)

Luton 1-1p Stoke (LC)

Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)

Spurs 2-2 Stoke (Prem)

Stoke 0-1 Liverpool (Prem)

The lowdown

A fixture traditionally splashed with bad blood arrives amid interesting circumstances this season. For Arsenal there’s that familiar whiff of dissatisfaction at a league campaign’s early exchanges. But despite the now-traditional #WENGEROUT autumnal kick-off, it’s not been quite the cataclysmic beginnings to 2015/16 as bemoaned by a section of hardcore doom-mongers.

Yes, the Gunners looked poor against West Ham and could have easily dropped points to Crystal Palace. Elsewhere, the woodwork halted disaster during a thrilling 0-0 draw with Liverpool at the Emirates. (Although it’s also worth pointing out that the linesman’s flag stopped Arsenal from gathering a much-needed win.)

Ultimately, it’s the threadbare transfer window that’s persuaded some fans that a title tilt is already over.

The prospect of Arsene Wenger unveiling Karim Benzema was snatched away at the death, leaving Olivier Giroud to the lead the line this season – or until January at least. Such was the mediocrity of his recent display for France against Serbia that the striker was booed off – in a friendly.

Still, some much-needed context is required here. Arsenal recorded another win at Newcastle. The gap to league leaders Manchester City at this very early stage stands at only five points.

The fact that Arsenal’s titles rivals – City aside – have also dropped points and Chelsea seem to be in turmoil will have convinced Wenger that August was a mere bump in the road rather than a grisly write-off.

All of which points to a very spicy encounter with Stoke, perennial party poopers and historical panto villains to Wenger’s admirable, attacking MO. In the past, the Potters have bloodied noses – and limbs – with their aggressive tackling and a willingness to bludgeon Arsenal into submission.

The recent red cards for Ibrahim Afellay and Charlie Adam against West Brom – the latter for an alleged stamp on Craig Dawson – suggest that old habits are dying hard. But this is a very different side from the one that made so many enemies under Tony Pulis’s charge.

For starters, they have the personnel to potentially unpick the most expert of defences with both guile and strength. In signing Bojan Krkic last season and adding to it with Afellay, Moha El Ouriachi and Xherdan Shaqiri this year, they have a healthy portfolio of attacking options.

More impressively, Stoke now carry a little strength in depth. Having trailed Spurs 2-0 at White Hart Lane, Mark Hughes was able to call upon the experienced Stephen Ireland to deliver extra thrust. Stoke immediately moved into the ascendency and salvaged a point, while looking capable of claiming all three.

Potential is the key word, though; Stoke are very much a team in flux and they’ve yet to take a point at the Emirates in seven attempts. Despite their technically adept line-up, they haven’t recorded a league win so far this season either. Hughes might come unstuck again if he chooses to play Wenger at his own game, but mixing it up might deliver a shock. It’s a long shot, though.

Team news

For once, the international break has been a healthy one for Wenger’s players. None of his personnel collected fresh injuries and Laurent Koscielny has recovered from a back knock picked up during France’s 1-0 over Portugal. Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck are still sat in the medical department. Stoke are without Adam and Afellay, but Mame Diouf and Peter Odemwingie are nearing full fitness following injuries. Arsenal nemesis Ryan Shawcross is a long-term absentee following back surgery.

Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

A lot depends on the forward in the coming months. Giroud might collect the 20 league goals required of a top-four striker and the jury is still out (isn’t it always?) on Theo Walcott’s reliability as an out-and-out centre-forward. With Welbeck missing for the foreseeable, much pressure rests on Sanchez. He has the technical chops to deliver from the left flank - speed, strength and an eye for goal. Although the Chilean will need to be at his best if Wenger is to approach January’s window without regret at his frugal summer spending. Sanchez’s aggressive play should be too much for Stoke to handle here, along with the probing play of Santi Cazorla (who has created 16 chances this season, the most in the league). Glen Johnson, who is recovering from a groin injury, will have to be at his best to manage him.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

Arsenal 3-0 Stoke (PL, Jan 15)

Stoke 3-2 Arsenal (PL, Dec 14)

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (PL, Mar 14)

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke (PL, Sep 13)

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke (PL, Feb 13)

The managers

It must be a slow news week. In the absence of any Premier League drama, Wenger commented on his former Invincible, Thierry Henry, who is currently working with the Arsenal Under-18s. "He will discover what the job is about and you have to go through that process if you want to one day manage a football team," he told the Gunners' official website. "The job of a player is centred on you and the job of a coach is centred on others. It demands a psychological and mental transformation that is not always easy." 

Meanwhile, Hughes is set for talks with Jon Walters, who came close to leaving the club on transfer deadline day. "Jon knows what we think of him, as I've said before," said club chairman, Peter Coates, "We will see how things lie when he comes back. No doubt he and Mark will have a chat about things and take it from there."

Facts and figures

  • Under Mark Hughes, Stoke have completed 77.7% of their passes and averaged a 48.6% possession figure compared to a 66.5% passing accuracy and 39.4% possession figure under Tony Pulis.
  • In all competitions, Arsenal have now won 13 home games in a row against Stoke (dating back to 1983), their longest such winning streak against any side in the club’s history.
  • Aaron Ramsey has netted 3 Premier League goals against the Potters, his joint-highest tally against any side (also 3 against Sunderland).
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

A 2-0 home win.

Arsenal vs Stoke LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone

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