Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday, May 13
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Graham Scott
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke City
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke City 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 55 Arsenal wins, 25 Stoke wins, 24 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-L-W-W
  • Stoke City's League Form: L-L-W-L-D-D
Well, here we are, still in this thing somehow. Arsenal's odds of a top four finish improved from 7% at this time last week to about 24% now. That's not too shabby!

But there's still plenty of work to be done, in the form of three wins and some help. Arsenal can still finish with a maximum of 75 points. Manchester United can only get to 74. Liverpool can get to 76. Manchester City can get to 78. If Arsenal win all three remaining games, they cannot finish worse than fifth, but there's no difference between fifth and sixth in terms of next year's European places. They cannot finish worse than sixth because seventh place Everton can only get to 64 points and Arsenal have 66 now.

Arsenal can't get to fourth place on 75 points alone, they'll need Liverpool or Manchester City to drop points. With City, though, it seems unlikely they'll drop the four points Arsenal will need to pip them, since City have a large advantage in goal difference. It's all about somebody stealing points from Liverpool: they play West Ham at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday and Middlesbrough at Anfield next week. Seems hard to expect the Reds to drop points, but tell that to Tottenham a week ago...

All of that is moot, however, if Arsenal fail to win out. Nine points to go, three at a time. Let's keep this thing going.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Koscielny (knock)

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left the match against Southampton on Wednesday night on 38 minutes with a hamstring injury. After the match, Arsène Wenger said, "it was not a knife, you know," which I decided to take out of context to make it seem really bizarre. There's no definitive word on if he'll be out yet, which puts him in the "heavy doubts" column, which is really just the "doubts" column.

Laurent Koscielny did not pass fit on Wednesday, so remains in the doubt column here for now. Thankfully, Shkodran Mustafi returned to deputize. Granit Xhaka did pass fit, so he's removed from the injury list entirely.

So, the remaining questions come down to rotation. Arsenal played Sunday and Wednesday and will now play Saturday, Tuesday, and Sunday again. Five must-win games in a 15-day span is ridiculous. Arsenal will obviously look toward Sunderland at home on Tuesday as their best shot at rotating.

Predicted XI: Čech, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Gibbs, Bellerín, Ramsey, Xhaka, Özil, Alexis, Giroud.

Stoke City Squad News

Out: Ireland (leg,) Affelay (knee)

Not much to say about the Potters regarding their available player selection. Stephen Ireland suffered a double leg break a year ago this past Wednesday and has missed all year, while Ibrahim Affelay is out after knee surgery.

Stoke have retained the same back line for the last two matches, playing with Bruno Martins Indi along with Ryan Shawcross in the center of defense. This has allowed U.S. international Geoff Cameron, nominally a center back, to play in a more advanced defensive role alongside Glenn Whelan.

The only question is really up top, as to whether it will be Mame Biram Diouf, Saido Berahino, or even Peter Crouch.

Predicted XI: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Muniesa, Cameron, Whelan, Allen, Shaqiri, Arnautović, Diouf.

Current Form

Arsenal have now won four out of five games since switching to three at the back against Middlesbrough, though they did need extra time to beat Manchester City and the one non-win was a pretty embarrassing derby loss to Tottenham. Still, it's something, at a time when Arsenal needs any little something they can get.

Stoke, on the other hand, have one win from nine. They went out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle, losing at home to Wolves. Since that match, they've won four, drawn five, and lost seven.

The Premier League table this season has a lot of distinct zones: there's a top six, there's Everton, there's the five relegation candidates, and then there are eight teams that are just so completely "mid-table" that they could do anything on any given matchweek. Stoke City have 41 points. They are in 13th place. They are four points out of 8th but only seven points clear of relegation. They're safe, but barely. I think what's incredible about the table is that 8th place West Brom have only 45 points.

Match Facts

Arsenal have won 15 straight home games against Stoke across all competitions, but have only one once in the Potteries since Stoke's 2008 promotion. They won the reverse fixture 3-1 in December, just before everything came crashing down (in the form of consecutive losses to Everton and Manchester City.) Stoke scored first from a penalty conceded by Granit Xhaka (of course!) but Theo Walcott replied before halftime, Mesut Özil put Arsenal on top on 49 minutes, and Alex Iwobi made the points safe a quarter of an hour from time. The win put Arsenal on top of the league on goals scored, though Chelsea had a game in hand. Nine days later, Arsenal were nine points out of first.

I've told the story of Arsenal's struggles at Stoke many times before, so here's a condensed version: In November of 2008, Robin van Persie was goaded into a red card, as Stoke won 2-1 (Gaël Clichy added a meaningless goal at the death.) In January of 2010, in the FA Cup, Arsène Wenger started a heavily rotated side, but brought in his super subs at 1-1 in the 67th minute, then lost 3-1 anyway. In February of 2010, Aaron Ramsey broke his leg and Arsenal scored twice in injury time against Stoke's ten men to win 3-1; it's still their only win at Stoke. In May of 2011, Arsenal lost 3-1 there again. In April of 2012, then in August of 2012, Arsenal came out of Stoke with a single point on each occasion, drawing 0-0 and 1-1, respectively.

Three years ago, Arsenal lost 1-0 at Stoke on a controversial penalty. Two years ago, Arsenal spotted Stoke a three-goal lead, nearly stormed back, but saw Calum Chambers sent off by Anthony Taylor as they lost 3-2. Last year, Arsenal and Stoke played to a 0-0 draw.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Arsenal have only seen Mike Dean once this season, which is for the best; it was a scoreless draw at home to a team that was relegated. When it phrase it that way, it sounds abysmal, and in so many ways, the 0-0 against Middlesbrough in October was. It was a bit of a European hangover match, with Arsenal having thumped Ludogorets earlier in the week. Then again, away to Stoke won't be much different following a Wednesday night in Southampton than the Middlesbrough match was following a Wednesday at home to the Bulgarian champions.

You have to go back to April 11, 2015 for the last time Arsenal won a match with Mike Dean in the middle, a 1-0 win at Turf Moor. Since then, Arsenal drew 1-1 at Old Trafford, lost 2-0 amidst Diego Costa-related circumstances at Stamford Bridge, drew 0-0 at home to Hull in the FA Cup, drew 0-0 at relegation-threatened Sunderland last last year, then drew 0-0 to Boro, as mentioned above. Since 2006/07, Arsenal have won just 27% of their games with Dean as the referee.

Stoke have only five wins from 22 in the league with Dean in the middle themselves. They've lost to Manchester City and Liverpool with Dean in the middle this season, but beat Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium of Light in January.

I'm quite surprised Dean worked a Liverpool match at all, since he's from Wirral. He worked a Liverpool derby in December, but had never worked a Liverpool match before that in the league and had not done an Everton game since 2006.

Around the League
  • Friday (night): Everton v. Watford; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Friday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Chelsea; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Leicester City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Burnley; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Southampton; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Swansea City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday (very early): Crystal Palace v. Hull City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (early): West Ham United v. Liverpool; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester United; White Hart Lane, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is running out of jokes. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to remind him of when he's used that line before; he's sure it's been done somewhere.