Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Stoke City

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, February 2
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials 
    • Referee: Chris Foy
    • Assistants: Mick McDonough and Dave Bryan
    • 4th Official: Darren Drysdale
  • Reverse Fixture: Stoke 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 50 Arsenal wins, 23 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-L-L-W-D
  • Stoke's League Form: W-D-L-L-L-D
  • Weather: Mostly Sunny, 7 C / 44 F
Arsenal signed Nacho Monreal at the deadline.
You know what? The rest of the pictures in this
preview are going to be of nachos.
I'm not going to lie. I couldn't write the squad news section of this preview until after the transfer window closed. And now, after happy hour, I am a bit tipsy, so this is going to be an odd bit of writing. For example, in writing that sentence, I almost accidentally closed out of the page and nearly lost everything I had written.

So, where are we right now? Well, it's February, and that's good, because January was not particularly kind to Arsenal. Sure, they survived in the FA Cup, but they also managed just one league win. Meanwhile, the transfer window proved to be a bit of a farce, but thanks to a Kieran Gibbs thigh injury, Arsenal was forced to actually make a move!

But, I'm here to talk about the match at hand, and that means... ugh... Stoke City. Arsenal have Stoke, Sunderland, and Aston Villa on the league horizon before early March's North London derby. You have to think that February needs to be kinder to Arsenal than January was in order for this team to continue to have Top Four aspirations. And, that begins now.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (thigh), Coquelin (hamstring), Fabianski (ankle)
Doubts: Arteta (calf)

Well, we signed nachos. That sounds... delicious.

Ignacio "Nacho" Monreal comes from Malaga at the transfer deadline. An actual signing! And from what I've heard, he's a pretty talented left back, who can provide serious competition to Gibbs for the position. It's a shame he's cup tied in Europe, but hopefully Gibbs will be back for Bayern in three weeks.

As for the other injuries/positions, I haven't heard much about team news, since the media has been swirling around transfer stories. I wouldn't expect many changes from the side that faced Liverpool, unless Mikel Arteta can return, but I suspect he's still short.

Stoke Squad News

Stoke City signed Brek Shea to a £2.5 million deal, which disappoints me as an American, because why do all of the Americans keep signing for teams I hate? Clint Dempsey is already dead to me; I didn't think Shea would be too, after he trained with Arsenal a bit last year. Stoke also signed goalkeeper Jack Butland, who will go back on loan to Birmingham, as it appears Stoke will likely sell Asmir Begovic in the summer.

The Potters have only one injury in their list: Irish defender Marc Wilson is out at least another week recovering from a broken leg.

Current Form

It's like the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Now, I've never read the story, so my analogy here is going to be based purely on popular culture references to it. Also, I'm going to intentionally get parts wrong for comic effect. Really, it's not going to be like the story at all. And so, I present to you, more accurately, Dr. Free Flowing Football and Mr. Horrible Defense (that's a shit title; so sue me):

The problem lately has been that this Arsenal team starts as the boorish and evil Mr. Horrible Defense, timid with the ball, prone to mistakes all over the pitch, unable to spark anything in the midfield, and horrendously exposed at the back. Mr. Horrible Defense has been known to do things like have a center back sent off in the first ten minutes, ship two goal leads to opponents, or forget to defend anybody on set pieces.

Then, once they've dug the hole sufficiently deep, Arsenal turns back into Dr. Free Flowing Football, ruthless on the attack, generating one chance after the other, capable of scoring multiple goals in a matter of minutes. Against strong opposition (City, Chelsea, and Liverpool,) the hole is too deep to climb all the way out of, resulting in just one Arsenal point from those three fixtures. Against the likes of West Ham, the hole was merely 1-0 after Jack Collison's opening strike.

The trick is preventing Mr. Horrible Defense (I really should have thought of better names) from ever showing up in the first place. And that comes down to mindset, coaching, and motivation, and therefore, Dr. Wenger and Mr. Bould.

As for Stoke's form, they were unbeaten in 10 games entering the month of January, but have closed January with one win, two draws, and four losses. The one win came in an FA Cup replay over Crystal Palace. They've lost twice to Manchester City and have also lost to Chelsea and Swansea, shipping 11 goals in those four games. Most recently, Wigan came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at the Britannia on Tuesday.

Match Facts

I am going to directly copy and paste (changing relevant stats) my opening paragraph from this section of last year's home match with Stoke: The last time Stoke City won a match at Arsenal, the U.S. Billboard #1 hit was "Endless Love" by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. The day after, the U.K. #1 hit was "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell. The date was August 29, 1981, and since then, Arsenal have won all ten meetings with Stoke at home. Seven of those have been league meetings, with three victories in cup ties coming during the time when Stoke was not top flight.

Arsenal won this match last year by a 3-1 scoreline when it was played in October of 2011. Last year's captain who shall remain nameless started on the bench for rest, which looked all well and good when Gervinho opened the scoring in the 27th minute. Seven minutes later, Stoke were level, with Peter Crouch scoring (I'm sure it was from a set piece, but my memory is hazy.) The future traitor then came off the bench in the 67th minute, then scored twice in the 73rd and 82nd.

Two seasons ago, Arsenal beat Stoke 1-0 via a Sebastien Squillaci goal. Yeah. That happened. What also happened that day is that Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott got hurt, forcing both to miss Arsenal's Carling Cup Final four days later. And we all remember how that went.

The Referee

The referee is Merseyside-based Chris Foy. Arsenal have seen Foy twice this season, both times at the Emirates. The first was the season opening 0-0 draw with Sunderland; the second was the 7-3 win over Newcastle just before New Year's. Foy worked three Arsenal matches last season, all draws, including their 1-1 with Stoke at the Britannia.

Foy has taken charge of just one Stoke City match this season, a 1-1 draw at West Ham on November 19.

I mentioned in the Newcastle preview, the last time Arsenal saw Foy, that he had yet to show a red card this season. That streak ended when Eden Hazard kicked a ballboy.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Queens Park Rangers v. Norwich City; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Reading v. Sunderland; Madejski Stadium, Reading
  • Saturday: Wigan Athletic v. Southampton; DW Stadium, Wigan
  • Saturday: Everton v. Aston Villa; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. Chelsea; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Swansea City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Fulham v. Manchester United; Craven Cottage, London
  • Sunday (early): West Bromwich Albion v. Tottenham Hotspur; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. Liverpool; Etihad Stadium, Manchester