Arsenal make the journey up toward the north to take on arguably their most infamous bogey team in recent years, as Stoke City welcome the Gunners to the Britannia Stadium.
It’s been an eventful last few days for Arsenal. Last Wednesday, the north London side provided a great night of thrilling football at Anfield against Liverpool; full of goals, end-to-end football and nail-biting situations. An Aaron Ramsey finish and an Olivier Giroud brace had cancelled out Roberto Firmino’s two strikes for almost 90 minutes of the game, but Arsene Wenger’s substitutions invited pressure and as a result, Joe Allen volleyed in an equaliser from close range in what was one of the most iconic matches of the league season so far. This result cancelled out Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table following Leicester’s win at White Hart Lane, and whilst they still remain in pole position, the Gunners may look back come May and rue these missed chances to extend their lead.
However, Wenger did give the fans something to shout about the day after that match with the acquisition of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny. Described as an unselfish box-to-box midfielder with defensive qualities, he appears a talent for the future who can offer depth as a replacement for the ageing Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta – all in all looking a wise acquisition.
Twitter: CONFIRMED: Arsenal have completed the signing of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny: https://t.co/5SPtYr2AqB https://t.co/w2FMSddMbR (@ReadArsenalFC)
The opposition have proven to be one of the most entertaining sides to watch this season, a surprise given the negative connotations surrounding their name in recent years. The Potters find themselves seventh in the table, with a stellar front four that has delivered some significant giant-killings yet has been undermined by a weaker defence. Nonetheless, Mark Hughes has done a great job with the team – a job which was extended last Wednesday with a comfortable 3-1 home win over Norwich City. The home side were never in doubt of not gaining the three points, and showed their capability to handle the smaller fixtures alongside the more high-profile ones.
A player Arsenal need to watch out for is Marko Arnautovic. The Austrian has had his best season in a red and white-striped shirt to date, producing the goods against the biggest teams in the league with his strength and his improved awareness providing the focal point for a creative Stoke midfield.
A player Stoke (and Arsenal fans) need to keep an eye on is Mohamed Elneny. With Wenger hinting that the 23-year old will be part of this weekend’s game in some form, the Emirates faithful will be anxious to see what almost £7m has got them and if he can offer an immediate impact on the team in what would most likely be, at the moment, a defensive midfield role.
The last time these two teams faced off was in a 2-0 win for Arsenal, with goals coming from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. Both of those two will be featuring on Sunday, however, the added pressure of going to the Britannia will definitely affect the squad, so it’ll be a test of quality to see if they can overcome it.
– The Potters hold the advantage at home going into this occasion, winning 20 of the officially recorded 47 games played in Stoke.
– Arsenal have had the edge in the last five match-ups, winning three but losing two – records suggest not to bet on a draw.
– An average of three goals a game have been scored in the last five games between these two sides.
– Arsenal have failed to win in their last five trips to the Britannia (drawn two, lost three).
– The Gunners have won just once in their last five games on the road.
– Olivier Giroud has scored 18 goals in all competitions so far this season.
No new injuries for Arsenal, however to the delight of the manager Alexis Sanchez is back in contention, and could start on the bench alongside Mohamed Elneny. Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck all remain in the treatment room.
Star signing Xherdan Shaqiri is still out with a hamstring problem and Geoff Cameron is injured with an ankle problem. Stephen Ireland and Phil Bardsley could return to the 18 following their returns from injury.
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Butland; Johnson, Wollscheid, Shawcross, Pieters; Whelan, Adam; Afellay, Bojan, Arnautovic; Diouf.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Campbell, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.