Saturday, 13 May 2017

Arsenal's Trip To Stoke Previewed

Arsenal have slowly but surely improved in recent weeks with the exception of the 2-0 defeat at Spurs. They won at home to United on Sunday and again at Southampton on Wednesday night to keep their hopes of a top four finish just alive. They still have some ground to make up on both Liverpool and City, but they certainly have have some momentum in their favour.

Before last Sunday Arsenal had never won a league game against a Jose Mourinho, but they overcame that hoodoo with a 2-0 win. They haven't had the best record at Southampton either since Southampton returned to the Premier League, but they overcame that hurdle in midweek too. Their next hurdle is a trip to a Stoke team where they have struggled almost every time they have played there in the Premier League.

In eight trips to Stoke in that time Arsenal have only won once and that was on a day Arsenal will never forget. The injury suffered by Aaron Ramsey on that day over seven years ago is a sight I will never forget, but to the credit of the Arsenal players they managed to play on and get two very late goals to win 3-1. If Ramsey plays today he will suffer the usual abuse from the Stoke fans who weren't happy with him taking umbridge with the "challenge" which could have ended his career.

We'll hear the usual disgusting songs from their fans as they show their lack of class and they only way to shut them up is to give them the beating they deserve. It's not as if what happened to Ramsey was a mere accident as it was a direct result of the tactics many teams and Stoke in particular employ against Arsenal. Look at the injury Matthieu Debuchey suffered at the hands of Marco Arnautovic a couple of seasons ago and how it ruined his career or Charlie Adams assault on Alexis Sanchez last season.

Both Arnautovic and Adams escaped unpunished and it appears it takes what happened to Ramsey for referrees to act. It's very difficult to believe those in charge have the welfare of the players in mind when they constantly allow incidents like those to go unpunished. I have no doubt we will see the the same approach as always from Stoke today and the chances are the first yellow card will be issued to an Arsenal player (Granit Xhaka).

Stoke have been on a pretty awful run recently, but a strong finish to the season could still see them finish as high as eighth. They have only won once in nine games and that was a home game against the team with the worst away record in the league. That was their only home win in four games and they have lost to both Chelsea and Liverpool at home in those games. If Arsenal are going to keep their top four hopes alive they have to do what both of those teams did and get the better of Stoke on their own ground.

Of course Arsenal haven't exactly set the world alight away from home recently either with five defeats in their last seven away games, but they have won two of their last three on the road. They haven't had too many problems scoring goals away from home with only City getting more on their travels, but they have conceded too many. Maybe the change in formation will change that as the team seem to be gradually improving as they adjust to it.

It will be Arsenal's third game in seven days and fatigue could be a factor for the players. Even with that in mind I don't expect Arsene Wenger to make too many changes to a winning team. Both Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are doubts for the game and I think Koscielny is the more likely of the two to make it.

Chamberlain pulled up with a hamstring injury on Wednesday night and with his past record it would be too risky to play him. It could be a risk to play Ramsey too considering how far he has run in the last two games and his injury record since that fateful day in February 2010. I would be surprised if he didn't play though and I expect to see a very similar team.

Arsenal will have to complete as hard as Stoke if they want to get the better of them and that's something they've struggled to do far too often this season for my liking. They have the players to hurt Stoke and win the game, but they have to silence the crowd and put Stoke on the back foot. This is almost like Stoke's cup final to their fans and they seen to like nothing more than turning Arsenal over.

If we can take the three points we will put real pressure on Liverpool before they go to a West Ham team tomorrow who have finally found some form at home. That pressure is definitely getting to them with Jurgen Klopp questioning Southampton's tactics against us on Wednesday compared to the tactics they employed in getting a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Sunday. If we can beat Stoke then Liverpool will have to beat West Ham and the way they are playing that will be no easy task.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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