Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday, December 6
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke City 1 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 52 Arsenal wins, 24 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-L-W-W
  • Stoke City's League Form: L-D-W-L-L-L
Group hug! I love Poldi's reaction face here, too.
The league picture has tightened even further as much of the top half of the table won midweek. Arsenal's win over Southampton moved the Gunners within three points of the third place Saints, yet they're still sixth in the table. Manchester City are second with 30 points, Southampton are third with 26, United are fourth with 25, West Ham are fifth with 24, and Arsenal are sixth with 23. Four teams are within three points behind Arsenal in seventh through tenth.

The bad news is Arsenal now face a fixture they've struggled with (as have many other clubs) in recent years: Stoke away. Stoke were 15th in the table last year when they won this match on a controversial penalty; they're 13th today. They've won at the Etihad this year, and they've beaten Spurs and Swansea. At the same time, they've lost to Burnley, Leicester, and Sunderland this year too.

But, as I said in this preview last year, they're still Stoke. There's a psychological component to this fixture bubbling beneath the surface. If Arsenal have truly turned a corner as they've embarked on this three match winning streak, then that needs to show tomorrow on a cold, mostly cloudy evening in the Potteries.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Walcott (groin,) Diaby (???,) Ospina (thigh,) Ozil (knee,) Debuchy (ankle)
Doubts: Gibbs (hip,) Szczesny (dead leg)

Arsenal have done well since starting this giant highlighter
in goal.
Arsenal's injury list did not change very much after Wednesday night's match, thank God. The long-term injured are still unavailable. Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina are close to returns to full training, Theo Walcott remains out with the groin injury he picked up with England, Abou Diaby remains an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a cast, and the midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil will not be back any time soon.

Kieran Gibbs was on the bench on Wednesday, so his return from a hip problem is likely. As for Wojciech Szczesny, well, that's harder to tell. I don't believe he's been in training lately, so it'd be a surprise for him to start. Emi Martinez has deputized well in his absence.

As for the lineup, Arsenal can't be thinking of rotation just yet; they need to start racking up league wins. I'd be much more comfortable rotating for Tuesday's almost dead rubber Champions League match in Turkey (it's almost dead rubber as Arsenal can still mathematically win the group.) I'd say Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck are the men most in need of a rest; Welbeck I could see dropping for Olivier Giroud in this match. Alexis will almost certainly start, but I'd consider letting him rest Tuesday.

Predicted XI: Martinez, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Giroud.

Stoke City Squad News

Out: Sidwell (knee,) Moses (thigh,) Odemwingie (knee)
Doubts: Ireland (illness,) Whelan (calf,) Huth (calf,) Walters (knee)

Geoff Cameron recently did color commentary on a match
on American television and it threw me off a bit.
Stoke City have been hit hard by injuries themselves as of late; Steve Sidwell suffered a knee injury against Liverpool last weekend and is expected to miss at least four weeks. That news came days after it was revealed Victor Moses, on loan from Chelsea, will miss up to eight weeks with a thigh injury. Peter Odemwingie hasn't played since injuring his knee in the win against Manchester City in August; he needed surgery.

Glenn Whelan and Robert Huth could both return from calf injuries, while Jonathan Walters could return from a knee problem. Whelan and Walters both missed the midweek trip to Old Trafford while Huth has been on the long road back from his injury; he's only played in the League Cup this season.

The injury crisis in Stoke's midfield forced American international Geoff Cameron to play more advanced in the holding role to replace Sidwell. There have been some reports that Steven Ireland could miss out through illness as well, which might mean a start for Oussama Assaidi, who is on loan from Liverpool. Up top, Peter Crouch has not started a match since October 25.

Predicted XI: Begovic, Bardsley, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters, Cameron, N'Zonzi, Assaidi, Bojan, Arnautovic, Diouf.

Current Form

The BBC included this gem of a photo briefly during their
coverage of Stoke's match at Old Trafford on Tuesday. As you
can see, they broke space.
Arsenal have their head above the proverbial water again, buoyed by a three-match winning streak across all competitions. It's the second time this year Arsenal have won three straight; they haven't had a four match streak since the end of last season. They've kept three straight clean sheets as well, something that was also true about their streak from late last season; after conceding an opening goal to West Ham in mid-April before winning 3-1, Arsenal did not concede again until the early stages of the FA Cup Final, a run of four consecutive clean sheets against Hull, Newcastle, West Brom, and Norwich.

Stoke, on the other hand, have suffered three straight one-goal losses, 2-1 against Burnley, 1-0 against Liverpool, and 2-1 against Manchester United. A loss to Arsenal would be Stoke's first four game losing streak in the league since January and February of 2012. The Potters are firmly middle-bottom in the table; 13th in overall form, 13th at home, and 13th on the road. They're just five points shy of 8th place, but only three points clear of relegation.

Match Facts

Stoke won this fixture 1-0 from the penalty spot last year.
Arsenal have handled Stoke well at home; Stoke have not taken a point from North London since 1981. But, at the Britannia, it's a different story. Since Stoke's most recent promotion, Arsenal have won just once at the Britannia, drawn twice, and lost four 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 (the only league goal to his name before last weekend.) 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. Arsenal then earned two draws at Stoke, 0-0 in April of 2012 and 1-1 in August of the same calendar year. Then, last season, Arsenal lost 1-0 on a controversial penalty call after Laurent Koscielny handled in the box.

The Referee

Arsenal have had some... issues with this man before...
The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor, which is truly bad news for Arsenal in a match where they'll likely need some kind officiating. Taylor, of course, was the man in the middle of Arsenal's season opening debacle against Aston Villa last year. He then did not work another match for the Gunners for over one calendar year, before taking charge of Arsenal's 1-1 draw at Leicester this August. Stoke have only seen Taylor once so far this year; incidentally, it was for their season opening loss at home to Aston Villa.

You may have noticed Taylor recently; he was the fourth official for Arsenal's win over Southampton two days ago. He, Martin Atkinson, and Roger East are the only Select Group officials this season that have not yet shown a red card.

Around the League

This fixture last year includes a great "Sad John Terry" face.
Saturday (early): Newcastle United v. Chelsea (St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne)
If this match were played two weeks ago, it might've been worth a punt to suggest the Toon could be the team to finally unseat Chelsea. Two matches without a win and another few weeks without Tim Krul in goal, however, and Newcastle look to be heavy underdogs as they host the unbeaten league leaders in tomorrow's lunchtime kickoff. It's worth noting that Newcastle won this fixture last year, 2-0. Prediction: Chelsea win.

Saturday: Hull City v. West Bromwich Albion (KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull)
Might this be a relegation six-pointer? Hull are 17th, safe from the drop zone on goal difference only. West Brom are 16th, just one point clear themselves. These two clubs have one win combined between them over the last two months. Prediction: Draw.

Saturday: Liverpool v. Sunderland (Anfield, Liverpool)
Much needed back-to-back wins against Stoke and Leicester have eased some of the pressure on the Reds, who had gone five without a win across all competitions beforehand. They'll welcome a Sunderland side on Saturday that just had their own four match unbeaten run snapped after Manchester City put four past their former backup goalkeeper. Prediction: Liverpool win.

Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Burnley (Loftus Road, London)
Saturday is rife with relegation six-pointers! 19th place QPR hosts 18th place Burnley! QPR won their six-pointer against Leicester last weekend, 3-2, then lost to Swansea in midweek. Burnley have overcome their dreadful start and are unbeaten in four, earning draws with Aston Villa and Newcastle in their last two. Prediction: Burnley win.

Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace (White Hart Lane, London)
Spurs got a big win last weekend against Everton, then followed it up with a 3-0 thumping at Stamford Bridge. Spurs have already lost at home four times in the league this season. Crystal Palace have only one road win, however, and have just one win in their last eight matches. Prediction: Tottenham win.

Saturday (late): Manchester City v. Everton (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)
Manchester City face a critical Champions League matchday six this week and could find themselves guilty of looking past an 11th place Everton squad who have struggled to balance European and domestic play themselves. City are just so tough to beat at home and the Toffees only have road wins against the likes of West Brom and Hull this season. Prediction: Manchester City win.

Kevin Nolan scored twice in this fixture last year; Andy
Carroll had two assists and a red card.
Sunday (early): West Ham United v. Swansea City (Boleyn Ground, London)
Super Sunday kicks off with a great battle of surprise teams, as number five West Ham host number seven Swansea in East London. The Hammers have back-to-back wins after going three without victory, while the Swans continue to pick up points despite not having won consecutive league games since August. Prediction: Draw.

Sunday (late): Aston Villa v. Leicester City (Villa Park, Birmingham)
It looks like Super Sunday may end with a clunker, however. Aston Villa won on Tuesday for the first time since September 13; Leicester City have not won since September 21. Yeesh. Prediction: Draw.

Monday (night): Southampton v. Manchester United (St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton)
So far, so bad for the Saints as they struggle with a patented Arsenal-style DEATHRUN. A draw with Aston Villa was followed by losses to City and Arsenal, meaning Southampton are now clinging on to third place for their lives. United enter the weekend just one point behind the Saints and have won four straight. A draw here is the best case for Arsenal, especially as Wayne Rooney might be forced back quickly from a knee problem. Prediction: Draw, I hope.

John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and the first emperor of Polydeuces, the 34th moon of Saturn. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocatif you can stand his attempts at comedy that sometimes involve obscure references to the 34th moon of Saturn.