So, Saturday is here. A December Saturday and that, which means games are going to come thick and fast. The festive period is the most busy one when it comes to football, and there will be a glut of games from now till the New Year.
Stoke City are the opponents today, and as we all know, how much we hate those ogres. It’s a tough place to go to, given the hostile nature of the crowd, awful weather, more awful playing conditions, and despicable football players. Oh, and their manager is Mark Hughes. Stoke have had a mixed season so far, languishing in 13th place in the Premier League, having lost 7 of their 14 games so far, winning only 4 in the process. And they will be looking to avoid a 4th consecutive loss this evening, after suffering defeats to Burnley at home, Liverpool and Manchester United away.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are somehow managing to chug their choking, coal-filled engine along. After some setbacks, the Gunners have made some ground with 3 consecutive wins, and in the process keeping 3 clean sheets as well, something that bodes really well. Mood in the camp should be positive now, given the recent performances, where the Gunners have had to battle it out for their full share of points.
However, fatigue will be a major concern, with Arsenal having played 7 extra Champions League games, as well as an increase in the traffic jam in the medical room. Some players have been overplayed. Take for example, Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey whose performances in recent games have been average to under-par. However, considering the paucity of options, it doesn’t look ideal to give rest to any of the players. Against a Stoke side playing at home, it will be extremely difficult for a tiring side to cope up with the physical presence of the Potters. Arsenal’s record in the last 8 games at the Britannia includes just one win, and last season the Gunners put up an apalling performance in a 1-0 defeat.
There are injury concerns for both sides. Jonathan Walters (knee), Glenn Whelan and Germany international Robert Huth have calf problems. Stephen Ireland could miss out because of illness while Steve Sidwell, Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses and Dionatan Teixeira are all sidelined. As for Arsenal, Nacho Monreal is out with an ankle injury, Tomas Rosicky has a thigh problem, Laurent Koscielny an Achilles problem, while Yaya Sanogo will undergo a late fitness test. Sigh! Wojciech Szczesny will be back though and will replace Emiliano Martinez, who has played commendably.
With Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere still out, there’s no option but to start with Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey in midfield. I expect a start for Olivier Giroud this time round, with the dynamic trio of Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez behind him. Defense will be a major concern if Koscielny and Gibbs both fail their fitness test. That would mean Chambers playing at centre-back alongside Mertesacker, Bellerin coming in at right-back and Flamini at left-back probably, leaving us short in midfield. This could cause an entire reshuffle, with Ramsey having to play deep, and either of Podolski or Welbeck starting. Under ideal circumstances, this is how I expect the teams to line up.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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