Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Stoke City

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 10
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Mason
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Paul Tierney
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 0 Stoke City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 54 Arsenal wins, 25 Stoke wins, 24 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-D-D-W-W
  • Stoke City's League Form: W-W-D-L-W-W
As you can see, I use proper capitalization and punctuation
in text messages.
Well, Arsenal won their Champions League group after all. I have to say, I did not see that one coming.

Of course, this being Arsenal, nothing is ever going to be easy and there are some seriously difficult opponents lurking for the Round of 16. As you can see from the attached text exchange I had with a fellow Gooner on Wednesday night, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are waiting amongst the second-place finishers.

So the group stage is done, the League Cup campaign is over, and the FA Cup doesn't start for Arsenal until January 7. It's time to focus entirely on the league for a big run of fixtures. Arsenal will play three times in eight days, then have seven full days off before hosting West Brom (7th place West Brom!) on Boxing Day. Then, they'll have another five days off before playing twice in three days against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth. All in all, that's six league fixtures over the festive period with some really weird gaps in between.

We start with Stoke at the Emirates tomorrow, a fixture that's not usually as vexing as Arsenal's trip to the Potteries tends to be.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Debuchy (hamstring,)  Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Bellerín (ankle)

Hector Bellerín faces a fitness test as he comes back from his ankle injury; you'll recall his injury was deemed to be four weeks, but that was announced at the end of an international break. So, while this was announced three weeks ago, it depends on when that clock started as to whether he's back early. Still, I would call this ahead of schedule, since I thought he'd be a serious doubt for Arsenal's trip to Manchester City next week.

Santi Cazorla has successfully had surgery for his Achilles injury; the procedure was described as having been "perfect," but Cazorla probably said it in Spanish, so really, it was perfecta.

There are no changes to the rest of the injured list, though I'm assuming Olivier Giroud is no longer in the "doubts" category with his ankle problem.

Predicted XI: Čech, Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Alexis.

Stoke City Squad News

Out: Bardsley (knee,) Cameron (knee,) Butland (ankle,) Ireland (leg,) Afellay (knee)
Doubts: Arnautović (hip,) Martins Indi (face,) Shawcross (calf)

Stephen Ireland walked down the aisle,
apparently, on a double leg break.
Hey, anything for giant cake!
Ryan Shawcross (not sure if you've heard of him...) has missed each of Stoke's last two matches with a calf strain, but could pass fit for the trip to Arsenal. Bruno Martins Indi, also a center back, suffered an injury to his cheekbone, but the bone was not broken, so he will likely be available to start. Since United States international Geoff Cameron is ruled out with a knee injury, Stoke's depth at center back will severely be tested; if Shawcross cannot start, Marc Muniesa will continue to deputize.

Marko Arnautović was forced off from Stoke's 2-0 win over Burnley last weekend with a hip injury, but is also more likely than not to feature.

In terms of long term injuries, goalkeeper Jack Butland is out until the beginning of January with an ankle injury; he recently suffered another setback. Phil Bardsley is likely out a few more weeks with a knee problem. Ibrahim Afellay won't be back until January with an ACL injury.

Stephen Ireland won't be back until at least February after a double leg break suffered in training in May; he got married in June, leading to a number of news articles talking about how he "walked down the aisle" with the broken leg, even though usually the man starts at the altar already and the woman walks down the aisle in a wedding ceremony. But let's not let that get in the way of a good narrative.

Predicted XI: Grant, Johnson, Martins Indi, Shawcross, Pieters, Whelan, Imbula, Allen, Shaqiri, Arnautović, Walters.

Current Form

Marc Muniesa, playing in place of the injured Shawcross,
scored for Stoke last weekend against Burnley.
After having their 19-match unbeaten run snapped, Arsenal have now won two straight and, more importantly, have scored nine goals in the process. It would be ideal if Arsenal were back to their scoring heights of September/October, when they scored 23 goals in seven matches before getting shut out at home by Middlesbrough.

The win over West Ham last week extended Arsenal's Premier League unbeaten streak to 13, putting them in sole possession of second place behind a Chelsea side that have not dropped points since Arsenal beat them at the Emirates in September. Arsenal's 13-match run is their longest since a 16-match run in 2010/11, but that run included eight draws as their title hopes faded after losing the League Cup Final.

As for Stoke City, the Potters had just three points from seven fixtures going into the October international break and were 19th in the table. In the seven matches since then, they have won five, picking up 16 points. In the process, they've climbed ten places in the Premier League table. Sometimes it's not who you play, but when you play then and, clearly, any side would've rather faced Stoke back in September.

Match Facts

Pre-beard Giroud scored an insurance goal in this fixture
last season.
I don't think there's a bigger dichotomy between Arsenal's home and road form against a specific club than their form against Stoke; Arsenal have won just once in Stoke since their promotion in 2008, but have also won 14 straight home games against the Potters, dating back to August of 1981. 11 of those 14 wins have been league matches and three were cup ties.

In this match last year, Arsenal won 2-0, despite starting Theo Walcott as a central forward. Walcott scored the opening goal of the match too, on 31 minutes, but the Gunners were generally wasteful on the day. They had 68% of the possession and 29 shots, with 12 of them on target, but it wasn't until substitute Olivier Giroud headed in a second goal in the 85th minutes that the points felt safe. The two sides later played a scoreless draw at the Britannia in January.

The Referee

"Please stop fouling so much, thank you."
The referee is Lancashire-based Lee Mason. Mason has only worked eight fixtures so far this year, the lowest total in the Select Group. This will be his first match for each of these clubs this season.

Last year, Arsenal saw Lee Mason three times, winning twice (2-1 over Crystal Palace and 2-1 over Everton) and drawing once (0-0 against Southampton.) Stoke won twice and lost twice with Mason in the middle last year, winning 2-1 over Bournemouth and 1-0 over Southampton before losing 2-1 to West Brom and 2-1 to Southampton, in the reverse fixture of their earlier win.

In last year's 2-1 Arsenal win over Crystal Palace, Mason was widely criticized for failing to send off Francis Coquelin for numerous heavy challenges while he was already on a yellow card. Mason was demoted to fourth official duty the following week.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Watford v. Everton; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Bournemouth; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Crystal Palace; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Sunderland; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Leicester City v. Manchester City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Sunday (very early): Chelsea v. West Bromwich Albion; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (early): Manchester United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Southampton v. Middlesbrough; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday (late): Liverpool v. West Ham United; Anfield, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a national park. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for majestic vistas.

Preview by Numbers: Basel v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 6

St. Jakob-Park, Basel
Tuesday, December 6
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Portugal
    • Referee: Manuel De Sousa
    • Assistants: Alvaro Mesquita and Paulo Soares
    • 4th Official: Ricardo Santos
    • Additional Assistants: Fabio Verssimo and João Capela
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Basel
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win
  • Arsenal's European Form: L // D-W-W-W-D
  • Basel's European Form: L // D-L-L-L-D
Welcome to the Catch-22 fixture. Arsenal's 2-2 draw with PSG on matchday five gave the tiebreaker to the French club as we approach the final group stage match. PSG only have to match Arsenal's result to win the group and they host Ludogorets, playing what is, on paper, the easiest fixture of the group, a fixture Arsenal won by six back in October.

So, if you're Arsenal, how to you prepare for this match? Do you rest some guys or go for it? Do you risk injuries in a match that could prove academic? Arsenal have three league fixtures in eight days after this, including a visit from Stoke and difficult road fixtures at Everton and Manchester City. How much can you really prioritize this European trip when PSG holds all the cards? You're damned if you do and damned if you don't, honestly.

Basel, on the other hand, have everything to play for in terms of Europa League qualification; Ludogorets have the tiebreaker right now, as they also drew both of their meetings; the Bulgarians got a 1-1 draw in Switzerland and drew 0-0 at home, giving them the away goal. Therefore, Basel must better Ludogorets's result in Paris. That all means that, out of the four, the club with the least control over its own destiny is Arsenal.

So, who would you bring on the plane?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Debuchy (hamstring,) Bellerín (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Giroud (ankle)
Suspended: Coquelin (one match, accumulation)

The good news is, since this is a road fixture, we know who's on the plane (so you might wonder why I even asked the question.) Arsenal took a strong squad with them to Switzerland with Arsène Wenger quoted as saying, "I keep the group together." There could still be plenty of rotation, considering Arsenal's relative depth in midfield.

We know that Francis Coquelin is ineligible as he picked up an accumulation ban after his booking on matchday five. That should leave a midfield axis of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, who performed well together against Bournemouth recently. That is, of course, if the Gunners utilize the strongest lineup available to them.

Per Mertesacker, Hector Bellerín, and Olivier Giroud all returned to training on Monday; they're listed in there in the order of how long they've been out from longest to shortest. It would be a tremendous boost for Arsenal if Bellerín were available for those tricky road fixtures next week.

Danny Welbeck should be back in the fold by the end of this month or beginning of next month as well, which only leaves Santi Cazorla and Mathieu Debuchy as long term absences.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey, Walcott, Özil, Pérez.

Basel Squad News

Out: Akanji (knee)
Doubts: Boëtius (knee,) Bua (muscle)

Center back Manuel Akanji has been out since March with a cruciate ligament injury. Jean-Paul Boëtius has missed the last three games with a knee problem, while Kevin Bua has been out since the end of October with a muscle injury. Andraž Šporar had had an adductor injury, but made an appearance off the bench at the weekend.

Predicted XI: Vaclík, Lang, Suchý, Balanta, Traoré, Xhaka, Bjarnason, Steffen, Delgado, Zuffi, Doumbia.

Current Form

Arsenal's long unbeaten run in all competitions might be over, but it's worth noting that both of their losses this season have been at home. That means Arsenal have not lost on the road since they visited Camp Nou in the second leg of last year's European Round of 16. That was on March 16, meaning the Gunners are now unbeaten in their last 14 road games (10 this year, four last year.) Arsenal's unbeaten run in the Premier League is now 13 games since opening day, leaving them in sole possession of second place after Manchester City and Liverpool both lost last weekend.

If you had excluded Champions League losses to Arsenal and PSG, Basel were unbeaten on the season as a whole going into this past weekend; on Saturday, however, they lost 3-1 at Young Boys to suffer their first domestic defeat of the season. Still, with 17 games already played, Basel are 12 points clear at the top of the table. Domestically, FC Thun is the only club to get a point at St. Jakob-Park this season, when they picked up a 1-1 draw on October 1. Basel needed a 90th minute goal from substitute Davide Callà to salvage the point.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture 2-0 at the Emirates back in September in what was the first ever competitive meeting between these two clubs; Theo Walcott scored in the 7th and 26th minutes to give Arsenal the two-goal cushion and David Ospina made two saves to preserve the clean sheet. Arsenal could have scored a few more in the match but lacked clinical finishing at times; since overall goal difference won't come into play in deciding the group, that point is moot.

Historically, Arsenal have only visited the country of Switzerland twice for competitive matches and the Gunners have won both: 1-0 at Thun in the 2005 group stage, via a late Robert Pirès penalty, and 2-0 at Grasshopper in the first leg of the second round of the 1971/72 European Cup, with goals from Ray Kennedy and George Graham. Arsenal won that tie 5-0 on aggregate, but then lost the quarterfinal to Ajax.

In 11 home matches against English sides, Basel have won five, lost four, and drawn two.

The Referee

The match officials are from Portugal; the referee is Manuel De Sousa. The 41-year-old De Sousa has been a referee since 2000 and has had his FIFA badge since 2006, but this is just his 10th UEFA Champions League match. This is the first time he has worked an Arsenal match. He worked one Basel match way back in July of 2006 (given the timing, it's possible, though I have not confirmed it, that that was his first international club fixture.) That was a 3-1 win over Tobol Kostanay of Kazakhstan in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

English clubs are unbeaten in matches De Sousa has worked, all of which came in the Europa League. That includes a 2010 Manchester City win over Timişoara, two Spurs wins (over Rubin Kazan and Limassol,) Lan Everton draw with Lille and, later in that same season, a win for the Toffees in Switzerland against Young Boys.

Around Europe

While I usually just list the fixtures in this section, I feel it's important on matchday six to actually discuss the different permutations of who can advance from each group. Groups A through D finish tonight, while E through H finish tomorrow, and obviously, we've discussed Arsenal's Group A already.

In Group B, Dynamo Kyiv are already eliminated, but the top two slots are up for grabs. Napoli and Benfica each have eight points, but third-place Beşiktaş have seven. They'll play in Kiev knowing a win will see them through because Napoli and Benfica can't both reach 10 points while playing each other. Those sides will meet in Lisbon.

Group C is completely decided already. Barcelona have won the group on 12 points and Manchester City have advanced from second place with eight. Borussia Mönchengladbach will drop to the Europa League from third place while Celtic are out. City will host Celtic at the Etihad while Barcelona host the Germans, though both matches are dead rubber.

Group D isn't very interesting either. Atlético Madrid travels to Germany to face Bayern Munich, but the Spanish side, who knocked the Germans out of last year's competition, have clinched first place while Bayern are locked in second. PSV Eindhoven hosts Rostov and the Dutch side needs a win to usurp the Russians for third.

From Group E, Monaco have won the group and Bayer Leverkusen is locked in second. The only question here is whether Spurs drop out of Europe entirely, which I think we should all root against because, hey, fixture congestion. Tottenham are only one point clear of CSKA Moscow for third place with the London side hosting the Russians at Wembley tomorrow. Monaco travel to Germany for the final match, but they lead Leverkusen by four points.

Group F looks to have an enthralling finish as Borussia Dortmund travel to Spain to face Real Madrid. Dortmund are currently two points clear and a draw will see them win the group, at which point a second-place Arsenal will be guaranteed to face them... or Barcelona. You can bet Madrid are coming in with some confidence after nicking a late draw from El Clásico at the weekend, but Dortmund hit four past Gladbach themselves on Saturday. I think you have to bet on Madrid at the Bernabéu, though, since Dortmund have struggled on the road this year, winning only twice in the Bundesliga away from Westfalenstadion. Sporting are two points clear of Legia Warsaw for third; those clubs will meet in Poland.

Leicester City have clinched Group G while Porto and Copenhagen will battle for second; Club Brugge are dead last with zero points. Porto will host Leicester while Copenhagen travel to Bruges; the Portuguese side have a two point lead over the Danes, but Copenhagen have the tiebreaker, so a draw for Porto is insufficient to clinch.

In Group H, Juventus have advanced but not necessarily won the group; Sevilla are currently in second, one point back of the Italians. Lyon are in third and are three points back of Sevilla, but since they could still win the tiebreaker, they are not eliminated. That's because Lyon host Sevilla tomorrow. Sevilla won their home tie against Lyon 1-0, so Lyon need to win by two to advance. Juventus, who could still fall to second themselves, host Dinamo Zagreb, who have zero points.

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a disaster thriller novel. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for each scintillating twist and turn.