Finishing top of their group, scoring nine goals in their last two games and in the knowledge that a win by two clear goals in this match will see the Gunners top of the table – for 24hrs at least – should ensure that Arsene Wenger’s team go into this match against Stoke surfing on a tidal wave of confidence.
Arsenal currently lie in second place, and after successfully negotiating our annual November jitters, the fixtures show no sign of slowing. Just three days later Arsenal travel to Goodison Park, and then four days pass before we take on Pep Guardiola’s City team at The Etihad.
Phew. That is one tough schedule, but if the last few games have taught us anything, it is that we have the adequate depth to succeed in even the most dire of circumstances. The team was amply rotated for the 4-1 win over Basel, and there is the added bonus of a prospective return for Hector Bellerin.
The Spanish whizzkid has seemingly returned early from his ankle injury and is in the reckoning to return for the visit of Stoke, but with Everton and City on the near horizon, Gabriel and Carl Jenkinson should still be ahead of Bellerin for first choice today.
In terms of our other walking wounded, Per Mertesacker is progressing nicely but has set his sights on a return next year, and Danny Welbeck and Santi Cazorla continue their rehabilitation. Santi put up a picture of himself recovering from his recent ankle op on a hospital bed, so he will be missing from the team through the festive congestion.
This game may appear the easier of the next three, but Stoke will not roll over. They have lost just once in their last nine, and Xherdan Shaqiri continues to materialise openings and goals. They will be especially keen to end an awful run at the home of Arsenal – where they haven’t won since 1981.
Stoke will be missing a few faces, and club captain Ryan Shawcross is chief among them. Geoff Cameron is also missing, but they will have the services of Marko Arnautovic and Bruno Martins-Indi, who were carrying knocks from their previous match – a 2-0 win over Burnley.
Stoke are a different prospect at The Brittania, where they hold sway over Arsenal, but the Gunners have won their last 14 home games over the Potters. The Gunners are in great form in the Premiership, and are still proudly holding on to the fact that they have lost just once, which was a desperately unlucky opening day loss to Liverpool.
The Gunners look to have more substance this season, which comes from fresher legs and new personnel and competition. One of the players who offers such substance is Francis Coquelin, who returns from suspension for this game. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey combined well against Basel and while Santi is away they look to be the premium duo, but with three games in eight days, Coquelin and Elneny can look forward to some action.
Shkodran Mustafi was rested for the Champions League win over Basel and should come straight back into the team, and Keiran Gibbs did himself no harm with his excellent performance in midweek. He and Nacho Monreal look to be on an even keel, will they share games as the fatigue bites?
Lucas Perez is another who enhanced his cry for minutes with a treble against the Swiss side, and while he may be back on the bench for todays game, the Spaniard has shown he can be called upon to make a difference.
All the signs are good, and Arsenal are in a great place. With so many games coming up, it is easy to slip and snowball under the sudden negativity, but if we continue as we have done, we look strong.
First up, Stoke.
Predicted Lineup – Cech, Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez.
Predicted Scoreline – 3-1 Arsenal