Saturday, 25 August 2012

Arsenal's Trip To Stoke City Previewed

Arsenal make the tough trip to play Stoke in the early kick off on Sunday. They only managed to take one point from their first game at home to Sunderland, and they have to get something from this game. Arsenal have never had it easy when traveling to play Stoke in recent years, and this game will be no different.

There is a marked contrast between the footballing styles and philosophies of both clubs. While Arsenal do their best to play a possession based game which can be appealing to the eye, Stoke prefer a more old fashioned "up and at them approach." There is also more than a little needle between the two clubs after Aaron Ramsey's horrific injury against Stoke two years ago.

Both teams started their campaigns with draws last week, and both of them would have been unhappy with those results. Arsenal could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland while Stoke conceded a last minute goal to draw away to Reading. A win for either team would mean a good start to the season, but a defeat would see them struggling at the wrong end of the table.

Arsenal have played away to Stoke four times since Stoke were promoted to the Premier League, and they have only won once. That victory came in the game where Ramsey had his leg so badly broken, and it's about time victory number two arrived. The chances are Ramsey will be on the bench tomorrow, but his appearance at any stage will draw howls of derision from the Stoke fans.

They haven't quite managed to forgive him yet for being a little ungracious in accepting Ryan Shawcross's apology for the horrific tackle which broke his leg. To be fair to Shawcross he was very upset afterwards, and his mother had to bring him home in tears. They are hardly the actions of a thug or hard man, but then again bullies and thugs will hide behind anyone who will shelter them.

In team news Arsenal should have more or less the same players available as last week, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might return and Wojciech Szczesny is a doubt after picking up an injury. I can only hope Szczesny plays because I don't fancy the thought of watching Lukasz Fabianski play against Stoke. He has struggled with their style of football in the past, and if he is to get his chance I would hope for it to be against a less physical team. 

The defence and midfield will probably be the exact same as they were last week against Sunderland, but Chamberlain and Ramsey will be hoping to be included. The most important player for Arsenal in their midfield could be Santi Carzola, and he proved his worth last week by creating more goalscoring chances than any other Premier League player. Hopefully Arsenal can put away a few of those chances this time to help them on the road to a victory.

Arsene Wenger has to decide whether new boy Oliver Giroud will play from the start or not in a central attacking role. If Giroud does start I would expect either Theo Walcott or Gervinho to miss out, as I expect Lukas Podolski to keep his place but play on the left more than likely. Walcott struggled against a defensive team last week. and I suspect he could be the player to lose out.

The inclusion of Per Mertesacker at the heart of the Arsenal defence while Laurent Koscielny is injured is seen as a big positive in this game by many Arsenal fans. Despite his height I don't think Mertesacker is a very physical player, and he depends more on anticipation for defensive interceptions. I hope he can stand firm against the onslaught from set pieces which is inevitable, and hopefully his stature will be an advantage for Arsenal.

Stoke only know one way to play and they will look to pressurise the Arsenal defence at every opportunity. They may have been the lowest scorers in the Premier League last season, but their home record is still pretty good. Arsenal have conceded the first goal on all previous Premier League trips to Stoke, and it would be a pleasant change for them to reverse that trend.

Of course Arsenal only really know the one way to play as well, and if they can get their passing game going at the right pace they will cause Stoke problems. The wide players need to become more involved than they were against Sunderland, and they need to take the good chances that come their way. Hopefully Giroud will get his name on the scoresheet if he gets a chance as good as the one he missed last week.

It takes time for players to settle into a new club, but the best way for a striker to settle is to find the back of the net. Carzola doesn't seem like he will need time to settle in ,and his quick feet and football brain will cause Stoke real problems, as long as the referee doesn't allow them to kick him out of the game. I am genuinely excited by the prospect of Carzola, and what he can do for Arsenal this season.

I think it's going to be a very tight game, but Arsenal have the ability to take all three points if they can work hard enough to win them. I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal with Carzola again being the star of the show. It would be nice for Arsenal to head to Liverpool next weekend with four points in the bag already.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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