Saturday, 16 January 2016

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Stoke Previewed

Arsenal make the trip to Stoke on Sunday afternoon knowing they have been knocked off the top of the Premier League. With all the other teams having played before them they will know their task with a win moving them above City. It's never an easy trip to Stoke, but it's certainly within this team's capabilities to go there and take the three points.

The trip to Liverpool on Wednesday night promised so much and in the end a point was probably a fair result. The hard part to take was the last-minute goal which rescued a point for Liverpool, but they had played well and probably deserved the draw in the end. That result meant Leicester cut Arsenal's lead at the top of table and they were only separated by goal difference before the weekend.

The players had to work very hard on Wednesday night against a Liverpool team who closed them down from first minute to last. Mesut Ozil in particular was given virtually no time or space, but he still managed to play a few passes which could have increased the lead during the second half. It would be good for some of the players if Arsene Wenger could rotate the team a little, but he's still hampered by an injury list which is slowly starting to get better.

Tomas Rosicky is back training with the first team, but he needs some game time before he'll be ready to play in that first team. Alexis Sanchez has a good chance of making the team on Sunday, but it all depends on how he has reacted over the last few days and whether playing him would be seen as a risk at this stage. The other possible addition to the squad is Mohamed Elneny who signed from Basel in midweek to bolster the midfield options.

Rosicky certainly won't play and I would have my doubts about the other two also. I think the boss will opt for the cautious approach and both of them will be available from the bench if they're needed. That would mean he will more than likely go with the team which started against Liverpool and trust in them to do the job.

There were at least three opportunities to finish Liverpool off in the second half on Wednesday night, but Arsenal players chose the wrong option on each occasion. It's hard to think those moves would have come to nothing if Alexis had been out there, but he can't be rushed back too soon. When he's back we need him at his best until the end of the season and he might be that extra spark that the team needs to make it over the finishing line. Players of his quality are few and far between and they can be the difference between winning trophies and ending up as also rans.

I would be surprised to see Stoke come at Arsenal and I think they will be content to hit us on the break despite being the home team. They have some very good attacking players who can turn a game on their own and Arsenal need to be strong in defence and in front of the defence too. Stoke have already taken some notable scalps this season and they will want to add Arsenal to the list of giants killed.

When we went there last season we put in one of the worst first half performances I can ever remember from an Arsenal team and we were lucky to be only 3-0 down at the break. The team fought back in the second half and very nearly got something from the game, but they lost 3-2 in the end. A start like that would be a disaster and the team need to be switched on from the very start which they certainly weren't on Wednesday night. 

Stoke have had some very good results against some of the Premier Leagues best teams at home this season, but they have also lost home games they were expected to win. Playing on the break suits them and they will be a real handful if they can get the first goal. Arsenal showed against Liverpool that they have the fight to come back against any team, but it would be far better if they score first.

Only Leicester have a better away record than Arsenal so far this season, but they have let in seven goals in their last two away games. The 3-3 draw with Liverpool was preceded by a 4-0 defeat at Southampton and the team have to be a lot stronger at the back. I think the combination of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla offered more protection to the defence than the Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey one offers at the moment.

Ramsey has an awful lot to offer going forward, but maybe his best position would be playing behind a striker rather than in front of the defence. I know Flamini is expected to do the majority of the defensive work, but he needs more help in that department from Ramsey. With the purchase of Elneny there is the possibility of getting another more defensively minded player in there beside Flamini as we await the return of Coquelin.

Olivier Giroud took his two goals on Wednesday night very well and he's very much an in form striker at the moment. Maybe he should have had a hat trick, but his goals have been very important to Arsenal this season and every striker misses chances although they're not always as easy as the one he missed. If Arsenal are to get the victory they so badly need Giroud is the player most likely to deliver the goals.

A point away to Stoke wouldn't be the worst result, but three points are what's required after City thumped Palace 4-0. A point would put Arsenal ahead of them again, but the bigger the gap the better and I think they have to go for the three points. As good as Stoke have been at home against the so called better teams I think they could struggle if Arsenal score first.

Arsenal can't afford to let Stoke build up a head of steam and the best way to do that is to come out all guns blazing. They owe Stoke a good beating on their own ground and this would be the ideal time to deliver. I just hope they can get their game together enough to put in a performance to show their title credentials.

That is for today.

See you tomorrow.

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