Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday, March 1
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Jones
    • Assistants: Mark Scholes and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke City
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke City 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 52 Arsenal wins, 23 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-L-D-W
  • Stoke City's League Form: L-L-W-D-D-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 6 C / 43 F
Well, I'm not gonna bring it up...
Ah, Stoke away. So much has already been said about this match-up and about this rivalry on the Interwebz, I don't feel the need to repeat it all for you here. The fact of the matter is, this fixture has been tricky for Arsenal in recent years; I go into detail after painful detail about that in the "Match Facts" section below.

The thing is, Arsenal have many more "tricky" fixtures ahead of them. They've won once at the Britannia since Stoke's 2008 promotion. They've won two of their last nine league games at Stamford Bridge. They haven't won at White Hart Lane in the league since 2007. They've won once in the league at home against Manchester City in their last four meetings. These are all tricky fixtures and they're all going to be played in March.

Stoke might be 15th in the league, but they've beaten Chelsea and United at the Britannia and held City to a draw there as well. In addition, they're Stoke. There's a psychological component to this fixture bubbling beneath the surface. All season long, Arsenal have responded to adversity, in ways Arsenal of three or four years ago would not have.

Things won't get easier until it's all decided. They're all tricky fixtures in some way. This one, in so many.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Kallstrom (back,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Monreal (foot,) Gibbs (hamstring,) Vermaelen (knee)

Where will Sagna start? Left or right?
The biggest concern for Arsenal is currently at left back, where Kieran Gibbs has been out since the Bayern game with a hamstring problem and Nacho Monreal was removed at halftime last weekend with a foot injury. Both are currently listed as "doubts;" for all I know, both could pass fit or both may not. In terms of deputizing, one would suspect the versatile Bacary Sagna to fill in on the left with Carl Jenkinson starting on the right if both Gibbs and Monreal fall short.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vermaelen has been declared fit again, though starting him on the left is not as good of an option, in my opinion, as shifting over Sagna; Vermaelen has been out since the beginning of January. There's been no talk of Laurent Koscielny having an injury, even after his removal from Saturday's match as well, so he's expected to start.

It's pretty much as you were with the rest of the squad; Mesut Ozil should be back from his mental vacation. Hopefully he's found his umlaut powers again.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna, Arteta, Flamini, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Giroud.

Stoke City Squad News

Out: Assaidi (knee)
Doubts: Huth (knee)

Assaidi had the winner against Chelsea in December.
He's out six weeks with a knee injury.
Very little for Stoke in terms of absentees; Oussama Assaidi, on loan from Liverpool, could be out a number of weeks with a knee injury, while Robert Huth is about to return from a knee injury of his own. Huth has not played since November 23 and Marc Wilson has been deputizing at center back along with captain Ryan Shawcross.

Stoke play more visually appealing football under Mark Hughes than they did under Tony Pulis; it was the Potters who had 51% of the possession in the reverse fixture and the Gunners who scored three from set pieces. While Stoke played more of a 4-4-1-1 at the time of the reverse fixture in September, they've played more of a fluid midfield of late. Glenn Whelan plays as more of a holding role behind Charlie Adam, Peter Odemwingie, Marko Arnautovic, and Jonathan Walters. Peter Crouch plays as the target man.

I've read that Stoke have only scored twice from headers this season, which is astonishing if true, but I haven't been able to confirm it.

Predicted XI: Begovic, Cameron, Wilson, Shawcross, Pieters, Whelan, Arnautovic, Adam, Walters, Odemwingie, Crouch.

Current Form

A comfortable 4-1 win over Sunderland was just what the doctor ordered for an Arsenal side that had won twice in its previous six matches across all competitions. With another difficult run of fixtures looming on the horizon, a difficult run extended by a sixth round FA Cup tie with Everton, the Gunners need as many points as they can possibly get.

Stoke, meanwhile, have lost just twice at home in the league this season, to Liverpool and Norwich City. They have beaten Chelsea, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and Sunderland at the Britannia while also drawing Manchester City, Everton, Southampton, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, and Cardiff City. Stoke sit in 15th in the table, but they are 7th place overall in home matches and last place away from the Britannia.

On the other hand, Stoke have won just once in their last 10 league games (it was against United,) so there's that to consider as well.

Match Facts

Vermaelen celebrates Arsenal's third goal in this fixture
four years ago.
Arsenal have handled Stoke well at home; Stoke have not taken a point at Highbury/the Emirates since 1981. But, at the Britannia, it's a different story. Since Stoke's most recent promotion, Arsenal have one just once at the Britannia, drawn twice, and lost three times. Let's go down Horrible Memory Lane, shall we?

In November of 2008, Stoke won the first meeting 2-1; Robin van Persie was sent off for a senseless shoulder charge on Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen with the game already 2-0. Gael Clichy, apparently, scored a consolation goal in extra time. Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Bacary Sagna all left that match injured. After the match, Sorensen quipped that Arsenal "lack that bit of spine you need."

In January of 2010, Arsenal and Stoke met in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Arsene Wenger would later be heavily criticized for his player selection, starting the likes of returning Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre, Armand Traore, and Francis Coquelin across the back four, plus Carlos Vela, Craig Eastmond, and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas up front. Regardless, it was 1-1 at 67 minutes when Wenger brought in Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, and Eduardo to go for the win. Stoke then scored twice to win 3-1.

A month later, the sides met in the league and Stoke opened the scoring eight minutes in. Nicklas Bendtner equalized in the 32nd, but the match continued 1-1 into the second half. On 66 minutes, Ryan Shawcross barreled into Aaron Ramsey and the rest is, of course, history. Arsenal needed a late penalty via handball to take a 2-1 lead, then Thomas Vermaelen added an insurance goal two minutes later. It remains Arsenal's only win at the Britannia Stadium.

In late 2011, Arsenal lost again 3-1 at Stoke, though this came at a point (early May) when Arsenal had long stopped trying post-Carling Cup Final loss. Each of the last two meetings have ended in draws, 0-0 in April of 2012 and 1-1 in August of the same calendar year.

The Referee

I guess this isn't the right one.
It's a common name!
The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones, whom Arsenal are seeing for the first time this season. Arsenal won all three matches in which Jones was in the middle for them last year, including the League Cup 6-1 win over Coventry City, a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion which Arsenal won on the strength of two penalties, and the 3-1 win over Norwich City which Arsenal left pretty late.

In terms of other matches from the past from which you may remember Jones (and speaking of two penalties,) he was the referee for Arsenal's come from behind 3-2 win over Aston Villa in the fourth round of the 2012 FA Cup, in which he awarded Arsenal two penalties in the span of seven minutes. He was also the referee for Arsenal's final day of the season win at West Brom two years ago.

As for Stoke, Jones was in the middle for just one match this season, a 4-0 loss at Everton in November.

Astonishingly, the visiting side has won just five of Jones's 24 matches as referee this season, though that's likely an aberration; he awarded Swansea a controversial penalty at Anfield early in the second half last weekend to make that match 3-3, though Liverpool went on to win.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Everton v. West Ham United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
    • Reverse Fixture: West Ham United 2 - 3 Everton
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Chelsea; Craven Cottage, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Chelsea 2 - 0 Fulham
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Newcastle United; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
    • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle United 2 - 3 Hull City
  • Saturday (late): Southampton v. Liverpool; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
    • Reverse Fixture: Liverpool 0 - 1 Southampton
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Sunderland; Wembley Stadium, London (League Cup Final)
  • Sunday (late): Aston Villa v. Norwich City; Villa Park, Birmingham
    • Reverse Fixture: Norwich City 0 - 1 Aston Villa
  • Sunday (late): Swansea City v. Crystal Palace; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
    • Reverse Fixture: Crystal Palace 0 - 2 Swansea City
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Cardiff City; White Hart Lane, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Cardiff City 0 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Not Playing: Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion