After back-to-back victories over Manchester United and Southampton, Arsenal will travel to the Britannia with renewed confidence that an unlikely top-four place can still be secure this season.
The Gunners seem to have hit a decent run of form following a formation change and Arsene Wenger’s side will be keen to continue their winning streak in another tough away trip.
Stoke have only lost two league home fixtures in 2017 and they were both against top-four opposition, in champions-elect Chelsea and Liverpool.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a slight doubt after limping off against Southampton in midweek with a hamstring complaint. Laurent Koscielny (calf) could return to Arsenal’s three-man backline but it’s unclear whether Rob Holding or Nacho Monreal would drop out of the starting eleven in the Frenchman’s presence alongside Shkodran Mustafi, who excelled when called upon last time out.
It’s imperative for Arsenal to continue winning if they’re to have any chance of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season. Having only won once in eight Premier League fixtures at the Britannia, it’s definitely time to banish the ‘bogey team’ tag that Stoke hold over the Gunners – especially as Wenger’s squad have more than enough quality to win them the game, even if they don’t play to their best.
“Traditionally there is a fierce rivalry and they had always a very direct game against us. Stoke are now regular participants in the Premier League for years, and that means that anybody who goes there is in trouble. We have to show character again. We know we have to play to win the games, so let’s keep the focus on the way we want to play and on our team spirit,” Wenger was quoted as saying by the club’s official website today.
It’s likely that Koscielny will not be risked for this fixture, as there is a possibility that he could aggravate the knock if forced back too quickly. The backline performed well against Southampton when under pressure on a few occasions and it’d make sense to keep the defence the same here, where Stoke will be encouraged to attack in numbers but retain their defensive physicality – it’ll be tough for the hosts to continually do this over 90 minutes though.
Possible XI (3-4-2-1): Cech; Holding, Mustafi, Monreal; Bellerín, Xhaka, Ramsey, Gibbs; Alexis, Özil; Welbeck.
As previously mentioned, Stoke’s home record is an impressive one but their frustrating lack of league victories have meant they are not fulfilling their potential in the league this season.
Results permitting, a victory for the hosts here could propel them into 9th place and Arsene’s previous meetings when competing away from home with Mark Hughes suggest his side could be in for another tricky test of their courage here.
Wenger’s last away win over Hughes came in January 2007, when he was manging Blackburn Rovers. Stoke have no fresh injury updates with only midifielders Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland still sidelined as they recover from lengthy injuries.
Saido Berahino could be in-line for his 9th league start in Stoke colours whilst Mame Biram Diouf took full advantage of a rare starting berth last weekend to score, suggesting he’ll be utilised again on this occasion.
In an interview on the club’s website Hughes said, “There aren’t many unavailable. I’ve got plenty of options and Mame did particularly well last weekend and got on the scoresheet so of course that comes into my mind.”
“I’ve got a decision to make and our aim is to achieve a positive result in our final home game, so I’ll be picking a team that will hopefully go on to win the game for us,” Hughes continued.