Saturday, 12 September 2015

Arsenal v Stoke Preview

It hasn't been a good start to the season for Arsenal even if they have managed seven points from their opening four games. The opening day loss at home to West Ham was followed by wins at Palace and Newcastle with a 0-0 draw at home to Liverpool in between those games. The two away wins were hard fought and deserved, but their home results so far have been pretty awful.

In a run stretching back to last season Arsenal have failed to score in five of their last six home games and their home form has become a real problem. They have made plenty of chances in those games, but have failed to score through a mixture of poor finishing and good goalkeeping from opposing keepers. No matter how well a keeper plays he can be beaten and the real reason for the lack of goals at home has to be that poor finishing.

Most teams come to Arsenal and sit tight while they hope to hit Arsenal on the break or from a set piece. It worked for West Ham on the opening day, but Liverpool had more of a go in the last home game and were by far the better team in the first half. Arsenal gained control in the second half and could have won the game, but Petr Cech was their best player on the night which tells us all we need to know about the game.

Arsenal have a very good home record against Stoke and they have to be feeling confident about beating them despite their recent goal drought at home. They may have had their problems away to Stoke over the years, but they have had no such worries at home. Stoke might be a different team under Mark Hughes, but they will still be more than prepared to put the boot in at any opportunity.

It's always important to get the first home win of the season and it's even more important for Arsenal with four away games in a row coming up after this game. They play Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League on Wednesday, Chelsea in the Premier League next Saturday, Spurs in the Capital One Cup the following Wednesday and then Leicester in the Premier League again the Saturday after that before they finish the month at home to Olympiacos. It's a very tough schedule, but given the recent home form maybe all of those away games offer more hope than if they were at home.

With regard to team selection against Stoke I don't see too much change from the team which struggled to beat 10 man Newcastle a couple of weeks ago. Neither Theo Walcott or Olivier Giroud showed too much in attack in that game and they both missed good chances, but I expect Giroud to get the nod as his aerial ability in defensive set pieces could be important on the day. He got a hard time off the French fans when he played in a midweek friendly, but hopefully the Arsenal fans can get behind him and inspire him against Stoke.

In defence I don't expect to see any changes even with Per Mertesacker back from injury as Gabriel Paulista played well enough when he was out to keep his place. I really like the look of Gabriel and I think he has the ability to make the defence a stronger unit when he plays. Mertesacker should be the only player available besides Mesut Ozil who wasn't available in that win over Newcastle.

With Danny Welbeck out for an indeterminate number of months and Tomas Rosicky apparently in the same boat it wasn't good to hear Jack Wilshere has suffered a setback too. It's supposedly not much of a setback, but given his injury problems over the last few years it's more than a little worrying. He's not exactly the next Abou Diaby, but he needs to go through a prolonged spell without injury to have a real chance of fulfilling his massive potential.

I think it's important for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to play because he seems to be the player most likely to make something happen in attack. If he plays it means one of the dead certs in the starting 11 will have to miss out and the question would be which one. Aaron Ramsey has got some stick recently, but I think he has done well in a position which is not his best.

The question is will he be favoured over Chamberlain on the right or will he miss out. He could play the role of either Ozil or Santi Cazorla, but I would be very surprised if he did take either of their places. Arsene Wenger has a habit of fitting square pegs into round holes when maybe it might be better if there were more round pegs in the team.

Possibly (almost certainly) the most important player for Arsenal is going to Alexis Sanchez and he is slowly coming back to his best. Missing out on pre season set him back, but hopefully his fitness has reached a stage where he can put that behind him and start banging the goals in like he did last season. For me he was right up there as one of the best players in the Premier League last season and he can be even better this season.

An Arsenal team at their best are capable of taking any team apart at home in particular and the sooner they get to that level the better. The season has started slowly but it's been far from the disaster some might believe and now it's time to kick on. A win against Stoke should set them up nicely for those four away games in a row and it's something they quite simply have to do.

There can be no excuses as this is a must win game with United and Liverpool playing each other while City face the tricky task of a visit to Palace. Three points in this game could see Arsenal in a pretty good position by the end of the weekend and they just cannot afford to pass up that opportunity. I think they will win and do so by a couple of goals too. I just hope I'm right.

As usual this season my fantasy league is up and running again and it's open to all comers with a €50 prize (out of my pocket) to the winner. You can join up by using the league code 48497-14043 after you have set your team up here and good luck to all who play. There were over 1,000 teams in my league last season and there's already more than that signed up for this season.

I'm also running my Predictions League again this season and it's very enjoyable even if there's no cash prize for the winner. The code for my league is FD757-ARR after you have signed up here and of course both games are completely free to play. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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