Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Stoke City on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Mike Baggaley for their views.
Arsenal hardly relish encounters with Stoke City, but the Potters have rarely caused significant problems at the Emirates.
Arsenal have won just one of their six trips to the Britannia Stadium since Stoke’s promotion to the Premier League, but boast a 100 per cent record in home fixtures against Tony Pulis’ side.
This is arguably the starkest contrast of styles in the Premier League - Arsenal’s intricate short passing juxtaposed with Stoke’s relentless long balls and crosses. It’s no surprise that the away side has fared so poorly in meetings between these two - if the home side sets the style of the game, the opposition find it difficult to cope.
This is arguably the starkest contrast of styles in the Premier League - Arsenal’s intricate short passing juxtaposed with Stoke’s relentless long balls and crossesMichael Cox
Stoke usually play either a 4-4-1-1 or a flatter 4-5-1 system. The teamsheet will reveal their intentions - the presence of two central midfielders and two wingers will see Jon Walters playing as a support striker, while a line-up with three central midfielders means Walters will occupy a right-sided role. The former appears more likely.
In fact, Stoke generally focus their play down the right and even their main striker tends to drift towards that side. A combination of Peter Crouch and Walters would have a height advantage over their direct opponents and Arsenal must be particularly wary of this threat.
The natural approach against a side with considerable aerial qualities is to play a high defensive line, pushing the opposition strikers away from goal.
In midfield, Pulis will use two of Glen Whelan, Steven N’Zonzi and Dean Whitehead. They’re unlikely to out-pass Arsenal in the centre of the pitch, but these players all boast pass completion rates of above 80 per cent because they reliably spread play from flank to flank to facilitate Stoke’s crossing.
In defence, Stoke’s centre backs are physically intimidating and the full backs tuck in, making the back four extremely narrow. This invites the opposition to go wide and exploit the space near the flanks, but Arsenal must prevent knocking aimless crosses into the box - that simply plays into Stoke’s hands
MIKE BAGGALEY, STAFF SENTINEL
Stoke aren’t in the greatest of form at the moment, and they’ve always struggled away against Arsenal, so it won’t be an easy game. They will be looking for an improvement on the second-half performance against Wigan on Tuesday. They were quite impressive for the first 50 minutes and went into a 2-0 lead, but then it wasn’t good at all for the last 40.
I expect them to get plenty of men behind the ball, and probably play in a 4-5-1. They will hope to frustrate Arsenal and keep things tight for as long as they can. Stoke are a threat from set-pieces and if they get one of those, they’ve always got a good chance.
Stoke are a threat from set-pieces and if they get one of those, they’ve always got a good chanceMike Baggaley
At the start of the season, I think most people would have been happy with 10th place. The club went on a 10-game unbeaten run and beat Liverpool on Boxing Day with a really good performance. Since then though, results have tailed off. Looking at the season as a whole, I don’t think there would be too many complaints. I think if Stoke finished 10th, it would be regarded as a good season.
Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross have done very well this season, as has Asmir Begovic in goal. I should mention Steven N’Zonzi as well. He’s been very impressive since signing from Blackburn Rovers. He set very high standards when he first came to the club.
Stoke have struggled a bit in the full-back areas since Marc Wilson broke his leg in October. From having a very settled defence, they’ve had to shuffle the pack a bit and have had various players playing at full back. Andy Wilkinson has had a couple of injuries as well. From being a very reliable and solid back four, they have looked a bit unsettled, even though Shawcross and Huth have continued to play very well.
Stoke are due a result at Arsenal, so I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.