Saturday, 10 December 2016

Arsenal v Stoke City Preview

After an emphatic 4-1 victory in Basel on Tuesday night it's back to the more mundane events of the Premier League for Arsenal when Stoke City come calling to the Emirates. With nasty November out of the way Arsenal kicked into a different gear last Saturday with a 5-1 win at West Ham and they followed it with the impressive win on Tuesday night. An added bonus to that win was the failure of PSG to win at home to Ludogorets which meant Arsenal topped their qualifying group for the first time in 10 years.

The reward for a group winner is a supposedly easier draw in the last 16, but with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich failing to win their groups that might not be the case. They are two of the six teams Arsenal can play in the next round and the other four are Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Porto and Sevilla. While winning the group was a great and unexpected achievement it most certainly won't be easy to make the quarter finals. 

With Santi Cazorla out for a while it looks like Granit Xhaka might just be in for an extended run in the team. He brings different qualities to the team, but I think he has to be the best option as long as he can control his urge to kick anybody who goes past him. There's plenty to choose from to play alongside him, but I have a feeling we might see Aaron Ramsey get a bit of a run in the team.

The games are coming thick and fast with three league games in the next week and Arsene Wenger is going to have to utilise his full squad. Both Kieran Gibbs and Lucas Perez grabbed their chance to impress with both hands on Tuesday night and Alex Iwobi didn't do too badly either. We could see Hector Bellerin back very soon while Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker are well on the road to recovery too. If we're lucky very soon we might only be missing out Spanish magician and that squad depth could be a real bonus.

I would imagine there will be a few changes from Tuesday night with Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi coming back into the defence. If he's fit I still think Bellerin will sit this one out and Gabriel Paulista hasn't done too badly at all at right back. Our defensive record isn't particularly impressive at home so far, but we have got the best defensive record away from home.

I think Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will come back into the team too which would see the same team play as the one which beat West Ham. It was great to see that we could make six changes in midweek without affecting the performance level, but crucial to that for me was the players who weren't rotated. We can keep our performance level at that height when we keep Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Laurent Koscielny and maybe even Xhaka in the team and others are moved in and out around them. The problem could be an injury or fatigue to any of those players and how we might cope without them over a very busy festive period.

For today though we play a Stoke team who started the season badly, but have only lost once in their last nine league games. They have being keeping plenty of clean sheets too even if they don't score too many goals and their confidence will be quite high. They have a pretty horrific record at the Emirates though and it's up to us to insure that record continues.

I saw the highlights of their victory at home to Burnley last week and they rode their luck before going on to win 2-0. If we can impose our fast passing and quick moving game on them I think we will get some joy and head to Goodison Park and then the Etihad Stadium hot on the heels of Chelsea. It promises to be a very busy week and we need to start it by taking the three points on offer today.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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