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Arsenal v Stoke: Match Preview
Arsenal return to Premier League duty following the international break with a home fixture against Stoke who, despite creating headlines with some impressive signings during the summer transfer window, have made a less than auspicious start to the season. Arsene Wenger will be relieved that all of his players have returned from international duty relatively unscathed and ready to play a part at the Emirates.
History would certainly suggest that Arsenal have the upper hand against Stoke on home soil, with the Potters winning just five of the previous forty-five meetings between the two clubs in North London. However, it will count for nothing if Arsenal show the same level of complacency that they did on the opening day against West Ham. Stoke certainly carry the same level of danger and quality that Arsenal must be aware of, but with Ryan Shawcross ruled out and Mama Biram Diouf facing a race against time to recover from a groin injury, the onus is on Wenger and the players to take full advantage of their opponents’ misfortunes. It is these sort of games that Arsenal will be expected to win, particularly by those who back them to do so on a single or domestic-based accumulator bet with Betway. However, what matters most is how the Gunners perform when they cross the white line, and if they put in the level of performance that almost resulted in victory against Liverpool in the second half, then Arsenal could be good value for the three points.
Coming up against Stoke would naturally require a physical and focused approach, but Stoke have transformed into a completely different team under Mark Hughes. They play a much more fluent style of football, and in Xherdan Shaqiri have one of the most impressive signings the summer. Bringing in the former Bayern Munich and Inter Milan star to the Britannia Stadium is a sign of how far Stoke have progressed, and although they have yet to hit the ground running this season by recording two draws and two defeats in their opening Premier League fixtures, it does not mean that Arsenal will have things their own way at the Emirates.
The return to fitness of first-choice centre-back pairing Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker has come at the perfect time for Arsenal, although it would not be surprising if Gabriel was given another chance to impress against Stoke. The Brazilian stood up strong when called upon against Liverpool and Newcastle, but Wenger may revert back to the tried and trusted in a game where physicality and strong organisation at the back could be key. Wenger also has to make a decision on who lines up alongside Francis Coquelin in the midfield holding roles; Santi Cazorla is clearly wasted in a position he is not accustom to, so it may require Aaron Ramsey to drop back and dictate the play from a deep-lying role or call upon the services of fit-again Mikel Arteta.
Scoring against Stoke would be the perfect confidence boost for Olivier Giroud who will have to confound critics who believe he is not the top quality striker that Arsenal need. The Frenchman was roundly booed throughout the game by his own national fans during the mid-week friendly against Serbia which will have done nothing in his quest to prove people wrong and deliver the goods for both club and country. A good performance at the Emirates may hopefully remind fans of what he can do if they get behind him, but Alexis Sanchez will undoubtedly be the man that Stoke will consider as Arsenal’s greatest danger. The Chilean scored a brace against the Potter last season in an impressive 3-0 victory on home soil, and although Sanchez may not be at his electric best following international duty, he holds to key that could unlock Stoke’s usually watertight defence.