On January 17th, title contenders Arsenal travel to the Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City. The Britannia has always been a bogey ground for Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger’s men will look too overcome their past defeats and come away with the three points. Despite conceding in the last minute to Liverpool, the Gunners still look to be title favourites after Manchester City’s draw at home to Everton. Three points away to Stoke could prove vital in the quest for their first Premier League title since 2004.
Stoke are in good form with three wins in their last four matches. They’ve always been a tough test for teams, but this year they’re beating teams in style with a front three many Europa League teams would be jealous of. The Potters are currently sitting only four points off the top four and a win against Arsenal could put them not just in the race for the Europa League, but in the race for the Champions League.
Stoke will have to cope with the injury to Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss international has missed the last few games and is not going to recover in time for the showdown against Arsenal. They’ll also be without American Geoff Cameron as he continues to struggle with a foot injury. Marc Munesia will have a late fitness test, but both Steven Ireland and Phil Bardsley are back for Mark Hughes to select.
Alexis Sanchez will face a late fitness test for the Stoke game and he, in the words of Arsene Wenger, “Has a 60-40 chance to be available.” New signing Mohamed Elneny is available for selection after he completed his move to the club on Thursday. Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Tomas Rosicky, and Francis Coquelin are all still out with injury.
Arsenal have not won at the Britannia since Aaron Ramsey suffered his horrific leg break in 2010. Last years fixture saw Stoke go 3-0 up, then have Arsenal battle back to 3-2 only to come up short with their comeback after Calum Chambers got sent off for a second yellow. Last year Hector Bellerin was subbed off at half time for the Gunners. He has not been subbed off in a Premier League game since. Peter Crouch, the scorer of Stoke’s first goal last season, is yet to start a game in the League for Stoke, managing only four substitute appearances. Stoke has the joint fourth best home defensive record in the league, with only Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester United conceding fewer goals at home.
Stoke City: Bojan
Stoke have attempted to turn their image from a team that is big physical and plays bad football, to a team that is fun to watch and plays attractive football. Part of that effort has involved bringing in some more technically gifted players. One of these players is Bojan. The former Barcelona prodigy has enjoyed a good spell at Stoke. Outside of the knee injury that kept him out for eight months, the Spaniard has been playing week in week out and made a consistent impact. He’s been consistently scoring and setting up goals for the Potters. He scored in this fixture last season, and he’ll be hoping to have a similar impact this year.
Arsenal: Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud has been constantly criticized since coming to Arsenal. People have been saying that he needs to be replaced with a “world class striker” since he made his debut. Yet, Olivier Giroud is actually quite good. He has 18 goals in 30 appearances (And only 22 starts) so far this season. Of players that have played at least 500 minutes, Giroud has the best goals per 90 minutes ratio in the Premier League. Against Liverpool in midweek he was fantastic. He scored two goals and played a key part in creating the third. His second goal in particular was nothing short of world class. With nine goals in his last nine games in all competitions, Giroud will hope to keep up his fantastic form and help Arsenal end their bad run at the Britannia.
Arsenal always struggle at the Britannia and Stoke are in good form. Even without Shaqiri, Stoke still pose a serious threat. They have shown they can do it against the best, specifically with their 2-0 win over Manchester City, so this will be a very tight game.
Prediction: 1-1 Draw