Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side travel to Stoke on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
While Mark Hughes’ Stoke City have received praise for playing more attractive football, they’re still capable of the approach which has traditionally unsettled Arsenal.
The Gunners have won just one of their eight games at the Britannia since Stoke’s promotion to the Premier League, and in last season’s 3-2 defeat, they struggled to defend crosses. A graphic of their assists (blue), key passes (yellow) and successful crosses (green) shows the Potters aren’t afraid to put the ball in from wide positions.
This season Stoke average 49.6 per cent possession - higher than the Tony Pulis era, certainly, but not evidence of a team that consistently dominates games. However, it’s the blend of technique and strength which makes them tricky to face in a tactical sense.
Stoke have the sixth-best defensive record in the Premier League, having conceded only one more goal than Arsenal. Jack Butland has been one of the division’s outstanding goalkeepers, while the return of skipper Ryan Shawcross - who missed the first two months through injury - was a huge boost.
Shawcross and Philipp Wollscheid are a formidable central pairing, with full-backs Glen Johnson and Erik Pieters attack with power and guile respectively. Stoke’s backline is extremely well-drilled, and have caught the opposition offside more than any other side in the division.
In the 3-1 midweek victory over Norwich, Hughes named a central midfield pairing of Glenn Whelan and Ibrahim Afellay. The latter is more technically gifted and attack-minded, but in general these two sit deep and spread play carefully to the flanks.
There, Stoke are likely to be without Xherdan Shaqiri, so Jon Walters should continue on the right. A hard-working converted centre forward who also boasts good technique, Walters has scored in his last two games. On the other flank, Marko Arnautovic is a tricky dribbler, excellent on the counter-attack and his battle with Hector Bellerin should be fascinating.
Hughes’ default system sees Bojan Krkic playing as the No 10, with tall striker Joselu likely to continue after impressing against Norwich. However, in the 2-0 victories over Manchester City and Manchester United last month, Hughes played the diminutive Bojan up front, pushed Afellay into the No 10 role, and brought in Geoff Cameron to beef up the midfield.
It’s a very different way of playing, and Arsenal must adjust accordingly.
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