The Emirates Stadium, London
February 23, 2011, 19:45 GMT
Flashback – 27th February, 2010. Arsenal travelled to The Britannia Stadium to secure enough points to close their gap on league leaders Chelsea. Though the travelling party managed to secure three points, the scar left on the minds of Arsenal fans remains to this day. Aaron Ramsey, in a middle of a fantastic run in the side, was ‘taken apart’ by a ‘mistimed’ Ryan Shawcross tackle. It took more than 8 months for the Welshman to come back to training and regain his fitness to play for Arsenal again. Ramsey, as of now, will play his last game for Cardiff City on loan this weekend before returning to his club, so he will not be there to square up against Shawcross.
Ironically, the English Media ‘supported’ Ryan Shawcross in this ordeal, as he tried to recover back from the ‘shock’ of breaking an opponent’s leg. Tony Pulis, the manager of Stoke City FC believes that Ryan has come out of the trauma that he had to endure during the months after the horrifying tackle. Arsenal fans are going to welcome Ryan to their stadium this weekend with a loud ovation, and stand by him as he tries to get over the distress of playing Arsenal once again. Thankfully for him, ‘Rambo’ won’t be around to cause him further anguish.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Gunners continued their season trend of making things difficult for themselves in the FA Cup, as they led a one-goal lead slip against Leyton Orient on Sunday, resulting in an unwanted replay at the Emirates. This comes after a morale boosting win against Barcelona, and Arsenal will be keen to take all points from this fixture to keep up the pressure on Manchester United.
Arsenal are quite aware of the strategy employed by Stoke City against them, which basically involves throwing a lot of balls into their penalty box. To counter that kind of football, Djourou will have to be at his effervescent best, as he is more adept at handling aerial balls than Squillaci; with the likes of Carew and Huth lurking around, it will be a formidable task for the Swiss. The Full Backs will retain their respective places. Fabregas and Wilshere will form the creative outlet in midfield, with Alex Song staying put in front of the back four, his role being crucial in this encounter. With the Carling Cup final looming ahead, the key players cannot afford to get injured. Andrei Arshavin played the entire 90 minutes against Leyton Orient and will be on the bench, so it will be interesting to see whom Wenger deploys in the front three. Chamakh, Nasri, Walcott and Bendtner are the candidates, with Bendtner most likely to sit out. Szczesny will face his sternest test yet when he will have to contend with Rory Delap’s throws into a congested penalty box, and his height could provide him the ability to punch the ball out of danger.
As far as injury news are concerned, Van Persie and Koscielny miss the game due to hamstring and back injuries respectively. Thomas Vermaelen’s return date continues to remain a mystery, Fabianski remains on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Diaby will be serving his suspension, and his physical presence would be missed in the game.
Probable Starting Line-up: Szczney, Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy, Song, Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, Chamakh, Walcott
The travelling team has come a long way since their promotion in 2008-09 season, and now sit at 10th spot in the League table. Nobody is unaware of the strategy used by Tony Pulis to ruffle their opponents. Rory Delap, with his trademark ‘tracer-bullet’ throws, will certainly be the biggest threat to Arsenal’s defence, which is for sure not the best in the league. Former Arsenal man Jermaine Pennant has been a ‘welcome’ addition to the team, and can be a menace from the right wing. Carew and Kenwyn Jones will be the two men up front in Stokes’ traditional 4-4-2 formation, and both offer huge aerial threats to Arsenal’s defenders. Etherington could miss the trip to London due to a bizarre back injury, which means Pulis will miss a creative player on the left side, as Arsenal won’t find it easy to handle long balls sent into their box by the winger.
Rubbishing all talks about being a ‘dirty side’, Pulis and his men will certainly come to North London with an intention to ‘play football’, which won’t be ‘beautiful’ – but that is how they play. The defense line will be guarded by none-other-than Ryan Shawcross and former Chelsea man Robert Huth. Danny Pugh could play in place of Etherington, while Whitehead and Delap will man the midfield.
Probable Starting Line-up: Begovic, Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Pugh, Jones, Carew
1. In the last four encounters, Arsenal have only lost to Stoke once in 2006, when Robin Van Persie was sent off.
2. Ricardo Fuller has scored four goals in four starts in all competitions for Stoke against Arsenal.
3. The Gunners have scored two or more goals in 13 of their last 15 Premier League matches.
4. Stoke have lost their last four Premier League away matches, the last three without scoring.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
The Frenchman delivered the killer blow to Barcelona with his assist to Arshavin, having made a timely counter attacking run despite question marks over his fitness. He was rested for the FA Cup game, and will be looking to rediscover the golden run of form which he enjoyed in the first half of the season, as well as to gain some match fitness ahead of the Carling Cup final in four days.
Arsenal 2- 1 Stoke
Though many consider Stoke as Arsenal’s bogey team, the Gunners have lost only once against Stoke in four Premier League meetings. Arsenal would want to win this game and sustain the pressure on Manchester United.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST