Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Sunday, January 17
11:15 a.m. EST, 16:15 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Craig Pawson
    • Assistants: David Bryan and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Mike Dean
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Stoke
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke 3 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 54 Arsenal wins, 25 Stoke wins, 23 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-W-W-D
  • Stoke's League Form: D-L-W-W-L-W
Well, Arsenal are no longer clear at the top of the table, after dropping two points to a late equalizer at Anfield on Wednesday. With Leicester's win at Tottenham, which would have been much funnier earlier in the season, Arsenal are now on top only by goal difference again; they have just a three goal lead on the Foxes.

The real concern is Arsenal's road form, as outlined in the "current form" section below. Arsenal's draw at Liverpool might not look too bad on paper, but some of their road losses truly do (see, Southampton and West Brom.) Arsenal have a number of major road tests during their final 17 matches of the season; they will travel to the Etihad, Old Trafford, White Hart Lane, and Upton Park during the final portion of the season.

But up next is Stoke at the Britannia, a place where Arsenal have only won once in seven Premier League tries. For Arsenal, they always approach it like just another road fixture, but for the Potters, it's like a derby. After what transpired in February of 2010 (Arsenal's only win there, mind you,) Stoke fans always get riled up for "Arsenal at home," in a while Arsenal just never seems to for "Stoke away." You could see that last year, when it was 3-0 to the home side at halftime.

I said in my Liverpool preview, "Let's see what mettle this title challenge has in it, shall we?" The question still applies and could very well be answered by the end of Sunday night.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Coquelin (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (hamstring,) Ospina (groin)


Mohamed Elneny completed his transfer from Basel to Arsenal yesterday and was spotted in training photographs, meaning he will, hopefully, be eligible to join the squad in their trip to the Potteries. I doubt he will start straight away, but Arsene Wenger likely knows more than I do about this situation, don't you think?

The other question is whether Alexis Sanchez will return. Hopefully he gets through training and all of the necessary scans and quizzes and such without issue. But, again, will he start in the XI or come in from the bench?

If both Alexis and Elneny start the game on the bench, then I would not expect any changes to the XI from the side that started at Anfield on Wednesday, as none of the other long-term injured players are ready to return.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Walcott, Campbell, Ozil, Giroud.

Stoke Squad News

Out: Given (knee,) Shaqiri (hamstring)
Doubts: Arnautovic (hamstring,) Cameron (ankle,) Muniesa (hamstring,) Ireland (hamstring)

My usual sources for non-Arsenal injury news gave some conflicting reports regarding Stoke's current injury situation, so bear with me here a bit.

Mark Hughes has confirmed that Xherdan Shaqiri will be out of Sunday's match with a hamstring injury, while Marko Arnautovic is a major doubt. Shaqiri, the club's record signing, is expected to miss about 10 days.

Elsewhere in the squad, back-up goalkeeper Shay Given, who must be 100 years old by now, is out with a knee injury, while there are doubts over Geoff Cameron, Marc Muniesa, and Stephen Ireland.

Predicted XI: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan, Affelay, Walters, Bojan, Odemwingie, Joselu.

Current Form

Even with Arsenal's draw on Wednesday at Liverpool, the Gunners have still only lost once since Santi Cazorla missed that potential equalizing penalty at the Hawthorns on November 21. That's eight wins, two draws, and a 4-0 loss across all competitions in the past two months.

Not too shabby, right? But let's talk about Arsenal's away form a little bit, because as I mentioned in the intro, that's where Arsenal's title bid is going to be decided. In Arsenal's last eight road matches, they have won twice (3-0 at Olympiacos and 2-0 at Aston Villa in consecutive matches in December,) they've drawn twice (1-1 at Carrow Road and 3-3 at Anfield,) and they've lost four. Three of those four losses were by three goals or more (Sheffield Wednesday, Bayern Munich, and Southampton.) The other was, as above, the 2-1 loss at West Brom.

That's not exactly encouraging reading heading to the Britannia, is it?

Meanwhile, Stoke City have been streaky all season. They opened the year winless in seven (though one was a League Cup draw they won on penalties.) Then, they won four straight. Then a loss, a penalty shootout win over Chelsea, and a draw. Then, two more wins, a loss, and two more wins. Then, a draw, a loss, and two more wins. Then, two more losses. Then, two more wins.

Stoke were dead last when they lost at the Emirates in September. They are seventh entering this weekend.

Match Facts

Have I told you lately that Arsenal struggle at the Britannia? Let's investigate this trend, shall we? I promise it won't be too painful:

Stoke City were automatically promoted to the Premier League in May of 2008, after finishing second in the Championship in 2007/08. On November 1, 2008, Stoke beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Britannia, a match in which 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 he scored for Arsenal.) 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."

A year later, in January of 2010, Arsenal and Stoke met at the Britannia 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 on eight minutes. 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. Two years ago, during Arsenal's tumble from the top of the table, the Gunners lost 1-0 on a controversial penalty call after Laurent Koscielny handled in the box. Last year, Arsenal spotted Stoke a three-goal lead, including an opening goal in the opening seconds. While Arsenal clawed back to 3-2, Anthony Taylor sent off Calum Chambers with a harsh second yellow and Arsenal's ten-men failed to find an equalizer.

Arsenal, of course, have a fantastic record against Stoke at home, and won the reverse fixture 2-0 back in September; Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud had the goals for the Gunners.

The Referee

The referee is South Yorkshire-based Craig Pawson. Arsenal have only seen Pawson once so far this season, for their 5-2 win at Leicester City in September, which at the time didn't really feel like a title-decider. It was only retroactively that Leicester continued proving that they are actually "for real." This is the first Stoke City match Pawson will be working this season, as well.

Last year, Arsenal split their results with Pawson in the middle, beating Burnley at home before losing to Southampton at St. Mary's on New Year's Day (I don't know if Pawson was smoking in the shower after that one, but I would doubt it.) Stoke had a record of one win (over Newcastle) and two losses (to Liverpool and Swansea) with Pawson last season.

The fourth official is Mike Dean; it's the first time Dean has been involved in an Arsenal match whatsoever since his gigantic clusterfuck at Stamford Bridge in September. I would still be insanely surprised and disappointed to see him actually referee an Arsenal match over the rest of this season (in the same way Anthony Taylor didn't work another Arsenal match for over a full calendar year after that opening day fixture against Aston Villa in 2013.)

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Sunderland; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Norwich City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Everton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Crystal Palace; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. West Ham United; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Southampton v. West Bromwich Albion; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday (late): Aston Villa v. Leicester City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Manchester United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Monday (night): Swansea City v. Watford; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a medieval Byzantine city. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for some Byzantine attempts at humor.