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.