Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Stoke City visit Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Sunday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox for his view on the game.
This summer marked a significant strategic shift for Stoke City, away from the rudimentary tactics favoured by Tony Pulis.
The statistics from Stoke’s campaign so far suggests Hughes has moved Stoke towards a more proactive style of play, without negating their previous strengthsMichael Cox
Instead, there’s an intention to play a more refined, attractive style of play - although Pulis’ successor, Mark Hughes, isn’t particularly famed for his insistence upon short passing football.
So far we’ve witnessed evolution rather than a revolution.
Many expected Stoke to have problems adjusting to life without Pulis, but so far the results have been impressive. Along with narrow victories over Crystal Palace and West Ham, Stoke recorded a fine point at home to Manchester City last weekend, and were a Jon Walters penalty kick away from a draw at Anfield on the opening day.
The statistics from Stoke’s campaign so far suggests Hughes has moved Stoke towards a more proactive style of play, without negating their previous strengths.
After four games, the Potters have recorded the 10th-highest average possession and the 10th-most shots in the Premier League, a significant improvement upon last season’s statistics, when Stoke were towards the bottom in both respects.
However, they still rank first in the Premier League in terms of aerial duels, and two of their three goals have come at set-piece situations. This isn’t an entirely new Stoke, but certainly a more positive, possession-orientated side.
At the back, Stoke are still commanding physically. Asmir Begovic remains one of the Premier League’s most impressive goalkeepers, and centre backs Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth are both towering in the air, although much weaker when brought out from the defence, and forced to turn.
In midfield, for Stoke’s last three leagues games Hughes has played Steve N’Zonzi and Marc Wilson in the deeper positions with Charlie Adam at the head of the triangle.
However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him revert to the system he played at Anfield on the opening day, with Glenn Whelan in the side and Adam on the bench - Whelan offers more tackling quality, and Adam isn’t at his best in away games when the opposition dominate possession.
Up front, Hughes started Peter Crouch for Stoke’s first two games before turning to Kenwyne Jones for the subsequent two. Neither have found the net so far this season, and that place remains up for grabs.
I'm expecting Sunday to be a bit more open than previous games between Arsenal and Stoke because Stoke have changed their style under Mark Hughes. I think the Emirates crowd will be pleasantly surprised.
Hughes' side created far more opportunities than Man City last week and should have won the game, which is frustrating but a compliment at the same timeMartin Spinks
Everybody will admit they've done better than anyone could hope for results-wise and in terms of the style of play that we're seeing. The team bar the left back Erik Pieters is the same as last season and yet we're seeing different sides to them. I think there's an element of them wanting to prove they can play good football, they've been unfairly labelled in the past and this is their chance to show that when the shackles are off, and they've certainly been released by Mark Hughes, they can rise to it and show they are good Premier League footballers.
There hasn't been a complete U-turn, he's sensibly kept what he calls the core of the team particularly with the defenders and goalkeeper. He hasn't gone overboard but there's no doubt that they are playing far more football as the fans will see on Sunday. They are prepared to play it out from the back, they are certainly looking for quick passes in midfield and the only real criticism so far this season is that they haven't taken the chances they've created.
Hughes' side created far more opportunities than Man City last week and should have won the game, which is frustrating but a compliment at the same time.
The Potters have got steadily better in each game this season, it was a good win against an albeit poor West Ham side but it was still a good performance by Stoke. They should have beaten City, despite Manuel Pellegrini's side having a few big names out. It's only four games so nobody is getting carried away but you've got to say the graph is on an upward curve at the moment and that may continue at Arsenal. We're certainly hoping for a first Premier League point at the Emirates and it won't be a backs-to-the-wall operation like it has been in the past.
Kenwyne Jones is always capable of producing something out of nothing and he's due a goal because he's missed a few chances this season. Another player to look out for is Marco Arnautovic, who made his debut from the bench last week and really lit up the game. It was only an early sign but it looks like he could be a very good asset for Stoke. It would be nice to think he could come on against Arsenal and change the game.
We're not getting carried away. Arsenal are Arsenal and they start as favourites. If the Gunners produce then Stoke could be in trouble. If Stoke overplay in the wrong areas then Arsenal will punish them but it hasn't happened so far and I certainly hope it doesn't happen on Sunday. I think it’ll finish 1-1.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 20 Sep 2013