Arsenal will be keen to extend their unbeaten run with a tough home fixture against Stoke on Saturday, a side that have proven menacing in seasons gone by.
Having topped their Champions League group in midweek, Arsène Wenger’s men will be quietly confident that they can surprise doubters in all competitions and win significant silverware during a campaign that has promised much thus far.
Wenger has publicly revealed his happiness with the team’s performances of late, whilst remaining focused on the task ahead against Mark Hughes’s side. They’ve won their last two successive league matches and travel to north London in high spirits.
As quoted by the club’s official website he said, “What has pleased me most [recently] is that we have played like a team who really wants to win each game and has a relentless attitude. What’s also pleased me is that when you have a big win, sometimes the focus goes. To reset, refocus and win again in a convincing way [is fantastic].”
“We have had a good week until now: West Ham lacked confidence but Stoke are on the way up, so we have to prepare for that,” Wenger added.
When questioned about the ongoing contract situation with Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil, Arséne remained firm on his stance about the talented duo: “They have 18 months contracts and they’re completely committed to do well as long as they are here.”
Injury updates continued, with Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker (both knee) said to be “recovering well” but at least a few weeks away from returning to the first-team squad properly. First-choice fullback Hector Bellerín (ankle) will face a late fitness test.
Francis Coquelin is expected to start once more after being unavailable for selection against Basel in midweek through suspension. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be hoping for another start having impressed recently, whilst Sánchez should start again in a lone striker role. Kieran Gibbs excelled against the Swiss outfit and continues to put pressure on Nacho Monreal for the left-back berth with increasing regularity.
Gabriel Paulista could start once more at right-back in Bellerín’s absence, whilst Petr Cech will be recalled in goal after David Ospina’s Champions League exploits.
Anything less than a victory will be seen as dropped points for Arsenal, especially considering they’re in hot pursuit of league leaders Chelsea, who play on Sunday lunchtime against West Brom.
Liverpool and Manchester City are both a point behind the Gunners in third and fourth place respectively, and with the Christmas period rapidly approaching, every point could prove pivotal in the title race.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Gabriel, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Walcott, Ox, Özil; Alexis.
As previously mentioned, Stoke will be quietly confident that they can snatch a result from the Emirates given their recent form.
Mark Hughes has a number of first team absentees, including captain Ryan Shawcross (calf) and first-choice goalkeeper Jack Butland (ankle). Despite this though, Lee Grant has stepped into the breach with consistent performances in-between the posts whilst the centre-back partnership between Marc Muniesa and Bruno Martins Indi has kept two clean sheets in successive weekends during Shawcross’s absence.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Grant; Johnson, Martins Indi, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Imbula; Arnautovic, Shaqiri, Allen; Walters.