Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger and his side face Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday so, to find out more, tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Mike Baggaley gave their pre-match views.
"Away at Stoke City has become Arsenal’s least favourite Premier League fixture. Since the Potters’ promotion to the Premier League, Arsenal have won just once from four visits to the Britannia Stadium – and that victory was only sealed very late on, a 3-1 win with two goals in stoppage time back in 2009/10.
"Stoke are the most prolific set-piece team in the league – although they’re not as dangerous as they once were from throw-ins - so it goes without saying that conceding cheap free-kicks should be avoided.
"Their main threat in open play is obvious - constant long balls towards the strikers. But for this to be a weapon, first Stoke must have the ball, and while it’s not the most favourable environment for passing football, Arsenal’s ball retention must be reliable. Tony Pulis will instruct Stoke to close down Arsenal high up the pitch in the opening moments – the midfielders and centre backs won’t get time to settle on the ball. On a warm August afternoon, however, this closing down is unlikely to be sustainable for long periods.
"The partnership of Peter Crouch and Jon Walters will cause Arsenal problems. Walters is likely to play a dual role, joining Crouch up front when Stoke are preparing to launch the ball forward, but dropping back onto one of Arsenal’s midfielders to make up the numbers in midfield. Last season, when Tottenham tried something similar against Arsenal, the midfield rotated to get out of the marking – this could be useful in this game.
"Crouch generally lurks at the far post when the ball is in wide positions, and Arsenal must be wary of him pulling onto the full backs for deep crosses. He won all six of his aerial duels in this game last season, and eight of the 11 he contested at Reading last weekend.
"Stoke prefer to attack down the right – last weekend, nine of their attempted 11 dribbles were own that flank, as well as the majority of their passing. However, Crouch most frequently received the ball from Marc Wilson, the left back, and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
"Playing a high defensive line will push Crouch away from goal, but Begovic boasts a huge kick from the ground. It could be worth putting a player in front of him, forcing the Bosnian to drop-kick instead. Everton’s Nikica Jelavic did this at Stoke last season, with good results."
MIKE BAGGALEY, STOKE SENTINEL
“Although Stoke haven't spent the money they have in recent summers, they have made some good investments. They have signed Geoff Cameron from Houston Dynamo, a 27-year-old United States international who could make his debut against Arsenal. Michael Kightly has come in from Wolves - he played very well at Reading on his debut - and Tom Huddlestone could be arriving from Tottenham too. So there is quite a bit of excitement about the season.
"I think they will go with a 4-4-1-1 system on Sunday, which is Tony Pulis' favoured formation. The key man will be Jon Walters, who is the deep-lying striker and his role is to disrupt the opposition midfield and get forward and support Peter Crouch if possible. Stoke accept they won't have the ball for long spells, but they will keep two banks of four to make it difficult for Arsenal and look to hit them on the break or from set pieces.
"This match is certainly one that the supporters will relish. Considering Arsenal are one of the big clubs, Stoke have a good record against them at the Britannia and there's always a bit of extra interest because of the history between the two clubs in recent years.
"Rob Huth will play - he got viral meningitis during the summer and made a surprise return on the opening day at Reading, completing the 90 minutes. But Dean Whitehead will miss out as he was sent off, and I would expect his place to be taken by Cameron.
"I will be optimistic and predict a 2-1 win to Stoke. I think Arsenal may take a while to find their feet this season, and this could be a decent time for Stoke to play them."