This has been a fixture that has caused Arsenal problems in the recent history. Stoke City haven’t lost to the Gunners at the Bet365 Stadium in the last seven matches played there and Arsene Wenger will be fully aware of the difficulty that this fixture poses. The visitors must win this match if they are to keep their slim hopes of the top four finish alive, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they failed to do that against one of their main bogey sides. Although Stoke have relatively little to play for, they will be desperate to maintain this impressive run of form at home in this fixture.
After a run of horrendous form, Stoke have lost only one of their last four matches. However, they have been far from convincing and they have the look of a team that is already on the beach ahead of the end of the season. They have a chance of a top-half finish, but that doesn’t seem to be enough motivation for the players. The problem with the recruitment that the club have done in recent years has been the characters they have brought to the Bet365 Stadium. They don’t have the work rate or the hunger that other teams in the Premier League possess and that has been evident since the turn of the year.
Arsenal have had one of their worst seasons in recent history and the mood around the club is sombre at best, with the futures of key personnel being less than certain. That said, they are just four points behind third-placed Liverpool with a game in hand and have earned a place in the FA Cup final. They could yet rescue their campaign. Although that won’t win back a lot of the doubters, it will provide the club with good foundations for the summer. The Gunners have won four of their last five in the league and will need to continue that run going for the final three matches.
In the earlier meeting between the two clubs this season, Arsenal ran out comfortable 3-1 winners, with goals from Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi, while the consolation goal for Stoke was netted by Charlie Adam. The Gunners need a similar result this weekend to keep the pressure on the sides above them. During the corresponding fixture last season, they couldn’t break down a resolute home defence and the match ended goalless.
- Stoke have failed to score in five of their last nine Premier League matches.
- Alexis Sanchez has been involved in 70 goals during his first 100 league appearances for the club. Only Dennis Bergkamp (71) and Thierry Henry (81) had better starts for the Gunners.
The Austrian is one of the most dangerous attackers in the Stoke City squad and he will have an important role to play this weekend. Arsenal have yet to convince defensively since the change to a 3-4-2-1 formation and the movement of Arnautovic will cause them problems at the weekend. On his day, he can be unplayable and he usually does increase his effort against the top six. This season has been okay for the attacker, as he has contributed six goals and four assists. He should have scored more goals, as he has had a number of great chances provided for him, especially in recent weeks. Although he hasn’t been as good in front of goal as many expect him to be, he will be desperate to finish the season with a flurry. The problem with the Austrian is that he can be ill-disciplined at times, as shown by his total of one red and nine yellow cards this season. It’s crucial that he stays cool on Saturday and delivers the goods in the final third, as this is a very winnable match for his team.
This season hasn’t been the best for the Welsh international as he has struggled with injuries and his form, but the last few performances have been good and he is once again establishing himself as a key part of the Arsenal team. The change to a 3-4-2-1 has helped him a lot as he now has more license to roam in central areas, while it displays his best attributes. Ramsey has always been a hard worker in the middle of the park and his engine is perfect to play in a two-man midfield. His partnership with Granit Xhaka is a developing one, but there have been positive signs for the Gunners in recent weeks that they could be the future for the club in central midfield. Against Manchester United and Southampton, the 26-year-old offered effective support to the attack and caused problems in both matches. He is due a goal and it will be sweet for him to score at Stoke, due to the stick he got from their supporters on his return to the ground after breaking his leg there in 2010.
Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland are both set to miss this weekend’s match for the home side, but they are the only absentees for Stoke. Mame Biram Diouf is likely to retain his place in the starting eleven after scoring against Bournemouth.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain won’t be available after limping off against Southampton on Wednesday, which should lead to a recall for Hector Bellerin. Laurent Koscielny could be back for the Gunners, but Santi Cazorla remains on the treatment table.
This is a huge game for the visitors as they chase down an improbable top four finish. They now have a real chance of qualifying for the Champions League for yet another season due to their recent run of good form. It wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest if they were to catch either Manchester City or Liverpool. For that reason, I think the Gunners will win this weekend and put an end to their awful record at the Bet365 Stadium. The home side don’t have anything to play for and that lack of motivation is likely to be the difference.