The conveyor belt of fixtures continues today, with Arsenal travelling to the Brittania Stadium to take on Stoke City – a team that the Gunners have failed to beat at Stoke for five games.
Arsenal are in a disappointing run of form away from home, with only one win in the last five, but their last away trip – the exciting 3-3 draw at Anfield midweek – showed the character that Arsene Wenger’s men possess. Restoring parity twice in quick succession and then taking the lead shows the belief that the Gunners squad must have and a win at Stoke would only reinforce the suspicion that Arsenal are the team to beat this campaign.
Despite the constant excitement provided by so many matches in quick succession, most of the buzz before the game was provided by two players – Alexis Sanchez and new midfield signing Mohamed Elneny.
Will Alexis Sanchez make the cut? Will the Chilean make his long awaited comeback? When you think of how many games Arsenal have had to play minus the mercurial man, then credit must be given for the results. Arsene Wenger confirmed in his press conference that Sanchez is available for selection, but the general consensus is that he will not start the game, rather he will make a cameo from the bench.
Mohamed Elneny finally completed his protracted move from FC Basel in the week and the midfielder is also in the mix when it comes to selection of the team. The Egyptian was confirmed by Arsene Wenger to be a defensive midfielder, but his skills and strengths point to an all-action role in the centre. With Wenger’s history of moulding young talent to fit a certain role, you can be certain that Elneny will be polished for a gleaming future if he applies himself. Will he make his debut? Flamini will hold the edge, especially in the heat of a partizan Stoke stadium, but it isn’t crazy to suggest that the new boy will get some minutes.
Other than the two players above, there isn’t any other forthcoming changes to the side which lined up versus Liverpool. Some good news regarding the long term injured for Gooners – Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck have returned to training. A return to the side however, will not be instant.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes will be hoping for a similar start to last season’s corresponding fixture, where the Potters went in for their half-time teamtalk three goals up.
Hughes has transformed the image of Stoke City and with Marko Arnautovic, Ibrahim Affelay, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri at his disposal, it makes his job far easier. Stoke were without Shaqiri for their win over Norwich in midweek and it is thought he will again miss out through injury. The giant Arnautovic has been vital in their play this term and he is also a major doubt. The rest of the attacking players mentioned above who have flourished this season will be available but it will be Jon Walters who may present the most danger after scoring three in his last four games – as well as three in his last five against the Gunners.
This match will be fierce and both sets of fans will be in fine voice as these matches have taken on a derby-style vibe. Thanks to some awful challenges and fouls in recent matches and Arsene Wenger’s comments afterward regarding these incidents, the feeling from both sets of supporters is heated toward the other. It only serves to amp up the atmosphere and with so much to play for this season, it should be a cracking game.
Arsenal are level on points with Leicester City at the top and Stoke City are only one win away from a European place. With all the bad blood between the teams, and with so much on the table if victory is obtained, the first few minutes will showcase the focus and determination of both teams. Stoke have fared well in the early stages of these games and Arsenal will have to be switched on from the first minute, but the Gunners can boast of three clean sheets in the last five games and Petr Cech will hope for another blank slate to add to his huge collection.
This match will be full of event and ranks as one of the must view games. Arsenal to break the Brittania hoodoo? Sanchez to score? Elneny to make his debut? Let’s hope all come true.