Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Stoke City: The Inside Track

Arsenal v Spurs

We return to Premier League action against Stoke City on Saturday, and ahead of the game Rob Kelly sat down with Arsene Wenger to discuss our opponents.

THE QUOTE

“Between confidence and complacency is a very short way - top-level competition doesn’t tolerate that. We want to keep our confidence level high but also our urgency level very high.” – Arsene Wenger

THE PREVIEW

It's been quite a week to be an Arsenal fan, with nine goals, some scintillating football and an early Christmas present to enjoy courtesy of Ludogorets.

And while it's unwise in the Premier League to ever feel too pleased with yourself - there tends to be a nasty shock just around the corner - you could forgive Arsene Wenger for feeling a degree of satisfaction after such an encouraging few days.

Approved kits

 

OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers

There is certainly a sense that we have rediscovered our attacking swagger this season - and the stats bear that out. At this same point last season, we had scored 36 times in all competitions – we stand at 47 this time around.

Perhaps more significant though, is the fact that we only managed to score four or more goals on four occasions in the entire 2015/16 campaign. We are not even at Christmas yet, and we have already achieved that six times this term.

“I would put that down to the quality of the chances we prepare, our finishing is much better but maybe the chances we create are much cleaner, much easier to finish,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.

“You have two good examples at Basel, where the first two goals from Lucas - of course you need to be there - but the difficulty is not in the finishing, it is more in the preparation. Maybe the clear-cut chances we create are much higher than last year.

 

Arsenal: Bellerin (ankle - doubt), Cazorla (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Mertesacker (knee), Debuchy (hamstring) Stoke City: Arnautovic (hip - doubt), Martins Indi (face - doubt), Shawcross (calf - doubt), Bardsley (knee), Cameron (knee), Butland (ankle), Ireland (leg), Afellay (knee)

“What has pleased me most [recently] is that we have played like a team who really wants to win each game and has a relentless attitude. What’s also pleased me is that when you have a big win, sometimes the focus goes. To reset, refocus and win again in a convincing way [is fantastic].

“We have had a good week until now but now we have to show we can finish it in a very positive way, and refocus to play a Stoke team who are in a completely different way to West Ham in terms of confidence. West Ham lacked confidence but Stoke are on the way up, so we have to prepare for that.”

The subject of confidence is certainly a pertinent one. This Arsenal squad is “brimming with it” according to Nacho Monreal, and that can be seen in the incisive nature of their football.

But there is a fine balance to be struck, and Wenger is aware of the need to ensure that his side retain their humility heading into the festive period.

“Between confidence and complacency is a very short way - top-level competition doesn’t tolerate that,” he said. “We want to keep our confidence level high but also our urgency level very high.

“On top of that I must say, [we need to keep] the desire to develop as a team. What pleased me most in the last two games is that we played like a real team: with authority, with a desire to play together and I still think we can do much better and that is what we want to focus on.”

ONE TO WATCH

Amid all the drama over our securing top spot in Group A, Lucas’ first goals in the Champions League - a hat-trick no less - slipped under the radar slightly.

It was a timely boost for the Spanish forward who has endured a testing start to his Arsenal career after arriving from boyhood club Deportivo la Coruna.

With Alexis is such fine form, Lucas has had to be patient as he has waited for opportunities, before an ankle injury ruled him out for a month. Not the ideal way to find your feet at a new club, in a new country.

But his response to adversity has been admirable, and that treble at Basel was a timely boost and emphatic reminder of his attacking prowess.

 

 

 

Lucas scores against Basel

Lucas scores against Basel

 

 

 

“He needed that, because when you come with a big transfer to a club like Arsenal, it is never easy when you are not involved and then injured straight away,” Wenger said.

“I believe he is a guy who has all the qualities you want, he is quick, he has good stamina, can repeat, has high energy, a very good finisher, so overall he has it all in the locker.

“In front of goal he is a killer, he has a short backlift and is a good finisher. You could see that on the third goal in Basel.

“He must adapt to the intensity of the fight in the duels in England. If he manages to do that, he will be a great asset for us.”

THE OPPOSITION

Whenever we meet Stoke, there seems to be an added frisson to the fixture borne of matches and controversies of the past.

But under Mark Hughes, this is a very different side – and one very much on the up after a difficult start to the season.

With defensive solidity rediscovered after a surprisingly porous opening passage of matches, and inspired by Joe Allen and Marko Arnautovic, the Potters will arrive in north London in good spirits themselves.

They may have lost all 14 of their previous away matches against us, but Wenger expects another major examination of his side’s title credentials this weekend.

“They are a very technically gifted side, they play a very good passing game and they have a team which has all kinds of assets,” he said. “They are good on the flanks, good in the middle, and can create chances with short passing.

“At the start of the season they had defensive problems, but for seven or eight games they have produced four clean sheets so they are defensively strong as well.

“That is what is awaiting us, Stoke are an established side in the Premier League and that makes it difficult.”

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