Lack of confidence has been a problem for the Gunners this season but there is every reason to go into the home game against Stoke with genuine belief. Arsenal have won all their 4 games against the Potters at home ever since Pulis’ side have regained their place in the Premier League. This season, Stoke have won only 1 away game and have barely scored 8 goals in 12 games while conceding double that number. They’re also winless in their last 5 games which include 3 defeats.
Vermaelen aptly equates them with West Ham as not only the styles of the two teams match but also their performances away from home. To put simply, Arsenal just need a repeat of the West Ham performance and this should be another eminently winnable game.
However, it’s worth remembering the fact that the first-half even in that game was fairly closely contested. There was little to separate the two teams and Arsenal were clearly uncomfortable against the visitors’ aerial and physical challenges.
The ten minute period of that second half was arguably the best spell of football Arsenal have produced this season but they must start finding their rhythm sooner. As Sagna said, the Gunners need a performance like the one against Swansea at home in the FA Cup replay. Even though it was a 1-0 win, the kind of possession and territorial dominance shown throughout that game was impressive. Arsenal pressed well cohesively and combined fluently.
Again, tactically this game is hardly going to throw any surprises. It’s just about dealing with Stoke’s attempts to gain territory through long balls and remaining solid while defending the set-pieces. Nothing Arsenal haven’t done before but lapses in concentration or unforced individual errors can make things significantly harder.
Wenger does have a couple of choices to make as far as his starting eleven is considered. Does he go for the physical qualities of Diaby? Is Nacho Monreal ready for a baptism by fire?
I’d start Diaby in this one in place of Ramsey or Cazorla. Giving the Spaniard another game off is not a bad idea considering he’s used to a winter break and he could always add quality from the bench if the game isn’t working to plan. I’d also keep Santos in the starting eleven despite his obvious weaknesses. It won’t be easy for Monreal to understand his teammates and perform against an opponent that is likely to attack from their right flank through a barrage of long balls. Their style might unsettle him and could lead to fouls and cards. He could be introduced in the final few minutes just to a get a taste of things.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos – Ramsey, Wilshere, Diaby – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
Poldi will have to support the left-back, whoever Arsene picks, as Stoke will target the spaces on Arsenal’s left. If Diaby can produce a repeat of his performance in the reverse fixture the defence should be pretty well protected.
Anything less than three points will be another massive disappointment.Follow @goonerdesi