Focus: How Stoke's front three could punish Arsenal on the break
Stoke’s victories over Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United earlier this season were proof that their exciting front three are at their best when Stoke play in a counter-attacking style. The short-passing philosophy Mark Hughes is attempting to install at the Britannia can leave Xherdan Shaqiri, Marco Arnautovic and Bojan looking lightweight and deceptively poor, leaving critics slightly bemused as to why they are unable to score more goals.
The visit of Arsenal should meant they play on the back foot and, up against Mathieu Flamini, find plenty of space in the final third.
In those three major scalps from 2015, Stoke averaged just 42.8% possession but Shaqiri, Bojan, and Arnautovic created 14 chances between them
In those three major scalps from 2015, Stoke averaged just 42.8% possession but Shaqiri, Bojan and Arnautovic created 14 chances between them; the vast majority were from quick, direct attacks through the centre-right zone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Shaqiri’s pinpoint through balls, Bojan’s excellent runs into the channels and Arnautovic’s powerful dribbling are most prominent when they are driving directly at the heart of a back-peddling defence.
Arsenal’s high full-backs and possession-dominant approach (55.8% average) make them particularly vulnerable this weekend. Nacho Monreal in particular is prone to drifting too far forward and leaving space in behind (where Shaqiri will be lurking), and Mathieu Flamini’s weakness in central midfield will only increase the likelihood that Stoke will break successfully.
Last season, Arsenal averaged 1.4 points per match without Francis Coquelin in the team and 2.35 with him, and although they looked strong without him in December they almost exclusively played against relegation candidates. The 4-0 defeat to Southampton and 3-3 draw with Liverpool more accurately reflect their problems when Coquelin is out of the side; Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were dominant in central areas. Bojan, Shaqiri, and Arnautovic will take confidence from this.