As much as Arsenal’s away record over the past few matches either side of the summer break has been stunning, their home record has been worrying. After a shocking opening day defeat to West Ham and a thrilling encounter against Liverpool, the pressure is on Arsenal and Arsene Wenger to put up a stellar performance in the first match after the closing of transfer window, and to justify the failure to sign a striker.
Wenger has promised for goals to come, which speaks volumes about how much trust Wenger has put on his forwards, mainly Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. With Danny Welbeck injured for maybe upto six months, Theo Walcott failing to convince up front, every other striker being sent out on loan, the pressure is on Giroud to deliver the goals and repay the trust the manager has put on him. On a personal perspective, he would look at the Stoke fixture as a respite and a comeback from his poor performance on international duty against Serbia, in which he was booed by the French faithful. But, ex-Arsenal striker Nicolas Anelka has backed Wenger’s decision to trust Giroud and has called for the Arsenal fans to trust Wenger and his decisions.
However, facing Stoke City, either home or away, is never an easy task. The general perception of having a physical game if it is against Stoke can not be applied anymore. Not that a physical encounter is not expected, but a fixture against Stoke is no more about just physicality. As Wenger stated, they have highly skillful players like new signings Ibrahim Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri, and other players like Bojan Krkic, Mako Arnautovic and Charlie Adam. This fixture has its own history in terms of ugly physical encounters, like the breaking of Ramsey’s leg after a foul from Ryan Shawcross, and Mathieu Debuchy having to undergo a second surgery within the same season after a nudge from Marko Arnautovic, last season. That’s the reason why Arsenal fans hate to face Stoke, but Wenger nevertheless suggests that there is no “bad blood” between the two sides.
Stoke City have failed to register a single point in their last seven visits to the Emirates Stadium, but that in no way can be used as a reason to write off Stoke from this fixture. For, the same was said of West Ham before the opening match day which only ended up in a reverse for the Gunners. History holds no significance whatsoever, and it all ultimately comes down to how the two teams perform on that day. The corresponding fixture last season resulted in a 3-0 thumping by Arsenal, while the reverse fixture could have seen Arsenal being on the receiving end, only for Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey to deliver, restore some pride and make the scoreline look respectable. Arsenal vs Stoke City has been a tale of two opposite shades. Stoke struggle at Emirates, and Arsenal struggle at the Britannia.
As for the team news, Danny Welbeck as mentioned before is out for up to six months, while Jack Wilshere has also suffered an injury setback. Tomas Rosicky is expected to miss out too, while Arsenal will be welcoming back Per Mertesacker from the viral illness that kept him out of the Liverpool and Newcastle games. Mesut Ozil, who missed out on the Newcastle game, is very much available and is in good touch after his solid performances while playing for Germany. Stoke City will witness Bojan Krkic being available for the first time since the horrific injury in January, who is expected to add a creative dimension in Stoke’s play. However, among the “technical” Stoke players mentioned by Wenger, Stoke will have to do without Charlie Adam and Ibrahim Afellay (suspension), while Diouf, Johnson and Arnautovic are still major doubts.
Defence: Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Defensive Midfield: Coquelin Cazorla
Attacking Midfield: Ramsey Ozil Sanchez
Apart from the physical tendency, this fixture is expected to be very much close as Arsenal look for their first 3 home points of the season and Stoke look for the first 3 win of the season. Their last visit to North London can give them some hope, because they came from 2 goals down to secure a point against the Spurs.