Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
There has been plenty of talk about Mark Hughes revolutionising Stoke’s playing style, but it’s still the simple, direct aspect of their game which will cause Arsenal problems.
"Arsenal must defend better if they are to exact a measure of revenge on Sunday"
That was underlined in the reverse fixture just over a month ago, a 3-2 victory for Stoke at the Britannia Stadium, when Arsenal found themselves 3-0 down by half-time.
Stoke’s opening two goals came from right-wing crosses, the third from a left-wing corner - and it is those situations that Arsenal must defend better if they are to exact a measure of revenge on Sunday.
Peter Crouch opened the scoring in the first minute. The tall striker has a fine record against Arsenal and is likely to spearhead the Stoke City side again.
He won eight of his nine aerial battles against Arsenal defenders at the Britannia, though Arsenal might learn from the approach Chelsea used against Crouch last month: they didn’t try to compete for the initial header, and instead attempted to anticipate the knock-downs and win the second ball.
Expect plenty of long balls towards Crouch, with three runners supporting him. Hughes has been particularly adventurous in recent weeks, often fielding three forwards behind Crouch, effectively creating something of a 4-2-4 system in possession.
Jon Walters starts on the right and will help Crouch challenge for aerial balls, while Bojan Krkic is a central playmaker, and likes to come deep to receive the ball to feet. On the left, Mame Biram Diouf or Marko Arnautovic act as more natural wingers, and like running with the ball.
The defence is arguably the area that has evolved most under Hughes - Stoke now have defenders who are comfortable playing passing football, particularly Dutch left back Erik Pieters and Barcelona youth product Marc Muniesa, who can play either on the left or at centre back.
However, there’s still a solid, dependable edge with Ryan Shawcross skippering the side, while either Cameron or Phil Bardsley will be right back - they’re combative, no-nonsense defenders.
Stoke are likely to defend narrowly, showing Arsenal wide and inviting crosses. That’s where the Potters continue to excel - they boast the best aerial duel success rate in the Premier League.
While Stoke's more refined playing style has resulted in an average 52 per cent possession share at home, that falls to just 45 per cent on their travels. Expect some quick counter-attacks and dangerous long balls towards the forwards, but it’s unlikely Stoke will attempt to outpass Arsenal.
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