The flurry of fixtures continues, and just three days after we fought past a stubborn Southampton side, we are again on our travels as we go to the Bet365 Stadium to take on Stoke City.
The spirit shown in getting maximum points from the Saints was pleasing to see, but this game will need this level and more if we are to get the win we need to keep our top4 hopes alive. This venue is not a happy hunting ground for Arsenal – we have not won there since 2010 and the last six games have been winless at the home of the Potters.
This is an abysmal record, and Arsene Wenger must look to end this if he is to continue to exert pressure on Manchester City and Liverpool. It isn’t just Stoke that have got a great record against the Gunners, as Mark Hughes is unbeaten in the last eight home league games.
It seems that this game is destined for dropped points, but let’s not abandon hope yet. Laurent Koscielny will again be tested before the game for fitness, but a few days rest will have done him the world of good. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went off injured in our win against Southampton, but he should come back into the team. This is a huge boost as The Ox has been quite excellent in his new position.
Alexis was back to his best midweek with a goal and a hand in the second, and the Chilean will have a hard game trying to get anything out of Stoke’s defence. He will have to be at his best. Mesut Ozil was another who seemed to be finding some form too, and both must deliver yet again.
Stoke are a different team compared to the Tony Pulis-inspired eleven which bullied us off pitches in the past, but they are still more than formidable at home. Mark Hughes may go for the lesser-spotted Saido Berahino in attack, but he will be looking for a win which could seal a top8 finish.
His team are not in the best form though, with only one win in their last nine matches. This just increases the odds of ‘one of those games’ for Gooners, where the opposition keeper summons the spirit of Lev Yashin and repels at least 39 shots, and the only goal is past our own keeper via a horrendous foul. We are all familiar with these games, but if it does occur, we need to rol our sleeves up, as there can be no dropped points.
A player we must watch out for is Peter Crouch. The lanky striker is one who has haunted us prolifically over the years, and his height will mean our defence will be stretched aerially. Mustafi, Holding, Koscielny and whomever makes up our proposed back 3 must track his movements in the box and Ramsey and Xhaka must cut out the supply.
Even after this game, we then have another midweek game against a Sunderland side free from pressure, and then ending our season with a game against Everton. All must be won. First though, let’s take the points from Stoke for once.
Predicted lineup – Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gibbs, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck
Predicted Score – 2-1 Arsenal