Arsenal ready for Stoke test
Arsenal ready for Stoke test

Arsenal host Stoke City in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon (3.00pm kick-off UK time).

The Gunners go into this weekend’s round of fixtures in second place in the Premier League table. They trail leaders Chelsea by three points.

Arsenal are unbeaten in thirteen Premier Leagues since losing at home to Liverpool on the opening weekend of the season.

Stoke City arrive in ninth place in the Premier League table and are one of the form sides in the division.

The Potters have won five of their last seven Premier League game.  It is a considerable improvement on only one point in their first five league games this season and Stoke have lost only one of their last nine matches.

Arsenal have had a good week. The 5-1 Premier League win away at West Ham was followed by a 4-1 Champions League win away at Basel, to clinch top spot in their group.

Arsene Wenger will be wary of fatigue today after the trip to Switzerland, and is likely to rotate his starting line-up today ahead of away trips to Everton and Manchester City next week.

Stoke have had a week to rest following their 2-0 Premier League win over Burnley last weekend.

Mark Hughes is in the middle of transitioning his side from playing defensively, and overly relying on set-pieces to score goals, to a more expansive style of football.

The signings of flair players such as Bojan and Shaqiri are an indication of where the Welshman and the owners want to take the club.

It is though a return of Stoke’s defensive solidity that has helped them to their recent impressive run,  after a poor start to the season left them in the relegation zone.

Head-to-Head

Stoke City are yet to take as much as a point against Arsenal in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium in the nine years since they returned to the top flight. You have to go back thirty-five years for a Potters victory over the Gunners in the capital.

The Potters have lost all eight of their visits to the Emirates in the Premier League.

Arsenal have won each of their last 14 home games in all competitions against Stoke City, keeping eight clean sheets in the process.

Stoke’s last away league win at Arsenal came in the first game of the 1981/82 season at Highbury, with Lee Chapman scoring the only goal of the game.

Key Men

Alexis Sanchez has 11 Premier League goals so far this season and is the joint leading goalscorer in the Premier League along with Chelsea striker Diego Costa.

Sanchez has been directly involved in six of Arsenal’s past eight Premier League goals (five goals, one assist). His tally for the season is 13 goals and nine assists from 20 matches in all competitions.

The Chilean scored twice and assisted another goal in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Stoke in January 2015.

Sanchez has had a hand in 25 goals in his last 25 Premier League appearances for Arsenal (18 goals, seven assists).

This is Sanchez’s joint-best goal return after 14 apps of a league season in Europe (11 goals), equalling his 11-goal tally for Barcelona in 2013-14. If he scores in this game, it would be his best goalscoring start to a European league season after 15 games.

Peter Crouch has scored eight times against Arsenal in the Premier League – only against Blackburn does he have as many goals in the competition.

Stoke keeper Lee Grant currently has the best save success rate in the Premier League having mustered a save ratio of 87% – Kasper Schmeichel has the second best ratio at 76%.  Jonathan Walters, who scored in the Potters win over Burnley last weekend, has now scored more Premier League goals (40) for Stoke City than any other Potters player

The Managers

Arsene Wenger

On Arsenal’s 13 match unbeaten run in the Premier League, Wenger said.

“I believe that first of all we have a good team dynamic, we have a very strong team spirit and we have more maturity, definitely. Unfortunately, the teams around us have as well more.

I would say today you can assess the Premier League as very open and very interesting as well because there are many, many big games. On our side, we are in the middle of the fight and we have a chance so in December that’s very interesting.

As you know, December is a very important month and for us even more because we have some big games. But overall, I’m very happy with the way we behave and with the consistency of our desire.

We are playing well but we have plenty of room for improvement. I think we want to develop as a team and that’s what we have done since the start of the season.

We had a very difficult start and since we have responded very well. I feel the team is on the way upwards but we have as well to show that first of all we can improve, that we have the desire to improve as a team, and as well, that we can repeat the performances week in, week out.

Stoke is another challenge for us that we can reset, refocus and continue our development and take the points.”

Mark Hughes

On the Emirates Stadium being the only ground that Stoke have failed to pick up a point in the nine years since they returned to the Premier League, Hughes said. It’s going to be a tough task, we haven’t done great there in the past. Obviously in the past as a Club we’ve struggled to get results at places like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge but we’ve been able to do that in recent times.  This is the only one left standing so it would be great to get it out the way. Our recent form is good and we’re in good heart so confidence is high, that is huge in football, so we’ll be able to benefit from that.  You do have to be a little bit careful because if you’re overconfident and you overextend yourself against good teams then you can come unstuck. The key is that we remain solid and in a position to be able to win the game, clearly they are going to have opportunities in terms of the possession that they have. It’s up to us to restrict them to minimal chances and make sure we’re creating chances when going the other way.”

Team News

Arsenal

The Gunners have no new injuries following their Champions League win over Basel in Switzerland on Tuesday.

Francis Coquelin is available after missing Tuesday’s match through suspension.

Hector Bellerin faces a fitness test. He hasn’t played since sustaining an ankle injury in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on the 6th November.

Petr Cech will return in goal after David Ospina deputised in the Champions League win over Basle on Tuesday, while Santi Cazorla (Achilles), Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck (both knee) are all definite absentees.

Provisional squad: Cech, Ospina, Martinez, Bellerin, Jenkinson, Holding, Gabriel, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs, Monreal, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Coquelin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Walcott, Reine-Adelaide, Iwobi, Sanchez, Akpom, Giroud.

Stoke City

Bruno Martins Indi and Marko Arnautovic will be fit for the trip to the Emirates Stadium.

Martins Indi was sent for precautionary X-rays after he was elbowed in the face by Burnley striker Ashley Barnes last weekend, whilst Arnautovic suffered a knock in the 2-0 home win against the Clarets.

Ryan Shawcross remains a major doubt with his calf complaint and Geoff Cameron (knee) is still a couple of weeks away from getting back to fitness.

Provisional squad: Given, Grant, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters, Muniesa, Whelan, Adam, Imbula, Bojan, Shaqiri, Sobhi, Arnautovic, Walters, Bony, Diouf, Crouch.

Match Officials

Referee: Lee Mason
Assistants: S Beck, M McDonough
Fourth official: P Tierney

Mason has refereed eight games Premier League games this season, handing out 33 yellow cards and one red card.  It will be his first game officiating the Gunners this season. He last officiated Arsenal in the goalless draw with Southampton in February. Mason will officiate the Potters for the first time since March, when he officiated Stoke City’s home defeat to Southampton at the bet365 Stadium

Prediction

Arsenal to take the the three points with a 2-1 win.

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