Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.Arsene Wenger's side face Stoke City on Saturday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Martin Spinks. MICHAEL COXAn away trip to Stoke City is one of Arsenal’s least favourite games of any season, and while Mark Hughes was appointed last summer and instructed to encourage a more technical, open style of football, the statistics suggest Stoke haven’t entirely evolved from the Tony Pulis era.
For example, Stoke still win more aerial duels - 26.2 per cent - than any other Premier League club. They also have the worst disciplinary record in the division, with 58 bookings and three red cards, and have recorded the fewest shots of the 20 Premier League clubs. However, Stoke enjoy significantly more possession than last season, the major change under Hughes.
"They continue to excel at Britannia Stadium. They have the seventh-best home record, compared to the second-worst away record"
They continue to excel at Britannia Stadium. They have the seventh-best home record, compared to the second-worst away record, which means Arsenal will be in for a much tougher test than in their 4-1 win at the Emirates in September.
Hughes’ major decision is whether to use a 4-4-1-1 system, with Jon Walters playing in support of Peter Crouch (the formation he’s used throughout the last month) or revert to a 4-5-1 to compete in midfield, which would mean Charlie Adam being pushed forward to the top of the midfield triangle.
In terms of shape, Stoke play a standard back four: Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson and Erik Pieters will protect Asmir Begovic. All are over six foot, and Olivier Giroud will have a difficult task winning aerial balls.
In midfield, Glenn Whelan usually sits deep and allows Adam to scamper forward to become a long-range goal threat, but Hughes could add physicality with the introduction of Steven N’Zonzi, creating a more solid midfield trio.
This would leave Walters battling with Peter Odemwingie to start on the right, depending on whether Hughes wants a hard-working aerial option, or a quicker, more direct player. Marko Arnautovic will start on the left and dribble at Bacary Sagna.
Crouch will start up front and he has scored against Arsenal many times over the years. He generally drifts to the right to compete for aerial balls, which means Laurent Kosicleny, rather than Per Mertesacker, will be in direct combat with the former Spurs striker.
MARTIN SPINKS, STOKE SENTINELIt's been a very mixed season so far. There have been glimpses of a better Stoke City but there have been some poor results thrown in and that's why they are in trouble down at the bottom. There's no doubt Hughes is trying to adapt the style of play, though he has recently gone back to the old system we saw under Tony Pulis. I think that was probably a wise move given that that suits most of the players.
"I think the jury is probably still out on Hughes with most fans. They appreciate the change in style he's trying to affect but clearly there is no ignoring the results"
I think the jury is probably still out on Hughes with most fans. They appreciate the change in style he's trying to affect but clearly there is no ignoring the results, particularly away from home, which are even worst than they were in the past. Thankfully the home form has remained pretty solid and hopefully that's what will get them out of trouble. Hughes hasn't got the same rapport with the fans that Pulis had but there has been no outright dissent towards him.The highlights of the season have unquestionably been the home wins over Chelsea and Manchester United. The nature of those games has been good as well with some great winning goals from Oussama Assaidi and Charlie Adam. Stoke are banking on the same kind of fare against Arsenal. We all know in these parts that Arsenal don't really relish coming to the Britannia and its lovely climate!Arsenal will have a lot of the ball. Stoke won't quite be the Stoke of old but they will get stuck in. The long throws have long since gone and Arsenal fans will definitely notice and appreciate a different Stoke team, but they are still a side that you have to work very hard against to have any success.
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