Premier League 17/18 Week 32: Arsenal vs Stoke City – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The Gunners aim for their first back-to-back league win since November while Stoke need a win to spark their spring for safety
13:30 BST, Sunday 1st April, Emirates Stadium (London, England) Sky Sports
Arsenal have suffered yet another mixed season soaked in inconsistency, however, home form has proved to be their main pillar of strength. With 72.9% of their points being picked up at the Emirates, they’ve beaten every team below them in the table who have made their way to North London so far this season. While the Europa League is slowly becoming Arsène Wenger’s main priority, this is a record he will not want to let slip.
Looking to break the Gunners is a Stoke side who are looking increasingly endangered in the bottom three. Paul Lambert may have inspired his side to a win during his second game in charge but has only collected 4 draws from the 7 matches which followed that victory over Huddersfield. As a side who beat Arsenal at home in the reverse fixture in August, they will need to complete the double over the Gunners for the first time in 42 years if they’re to enhance their prospects of Premier League football next year.
Last Time Out
Arsenal 3-1 AC Milan [agg 5-1] (Europa League)
The Gunners completed the second part of their Italian job with a convincing win over Serie A’s fallen giants. But while the Rossoneri may not be living up to their former glory, they’re undergoing a small resurgence and were on a 13-game unbeaten run before meeting Arsenal in the last-sixteen of the Europa League.
The game got off to a bad start for Arsenal when Hakan Calhanoglu’s 30-yard strike gave the visitors hope, however, two goals from Danny Welbeck and another from Granit Xhaka was enough to allay fears soon afterwards.
The equaliser came under dubious circumstances given that Welbeck fell down easily to win a penalty which he picked himself up to score only 4 minutes after Milan’s opener. It proved enough to put the wind into the Gunners sails and they cruised through the rest of the match to reach the quarter-finals.
Stoke City 1-2 Everton (Premier League)
Stoke fans were left with little comfort in the face of relegation after they were beaten by a team who wanted the win more than them. Played in wintry conditions, Lambert elected to use experience in starting Peter Crouch, Ryan Shawcross and Charlie Adam, however, these players proved too slow for Everton’s nucleus of quick payers. The selection was further compounded when Adam received a straight red for a reckless challenge after half an hour.
The second half saw Everton take control of the game through a greater desire to win the match, although Stoke needed the win more than the Toffees. A brace of goals from Cenk Tosun was given brief respite when Eric Choupo-Moting equalised for the home team but it proved a false dawn as the game’s momentum remained unchecked.
Worse was to follow for Choupo-Moting as his substitute appearance lasted only 7 minutes when he was forced from the field injured only 2 minutes after scoring. It proved an equally unhappy day for the rest of the team as Tosun’s second goal condemned them to defeat and the stark reality they’re facing an exit from the league.
Santi Cazorla (Achilles) remains Wenger’s only major doubt although Sead Kolasinac (knee) and Alexandre Lacazette (fitness) are outside bets to start this match for the Gunners.
Stoke City Lineup
Charlie Adam is suspended following a red card while Choupo-Moting is still suffering from the knock which had him limp out of that same clash against Everton. Stephen Ireland (calf) remains injured and both Geoff Cameron (hamstring) and Kevin Wimmer (fitness) are unlikely to feature for Lambert’s side this weekend.
Key Battle: Mesut Özil(Arsenal) vs Kostas Stafylidis (Stoke City)
Since extending his contract with the Gunners, Özil has been relatively quiet by his own high standards. With only one assist to show from his last 5 league games, it’s therefore an impressive feat that he has created the second-highest number of chances (78) this season behind Kevin De Bruyne and the same number of chances as the Belgian since the beginning of October (57) while also carving out 22.9% of the Gunners scoring opportunities since the start of 2018. Having been involved in 5 goals in as many games against the Potters (2 goals, 3 assists) this could be the perfect time for him to increase this tally further still.
Looking to track the German international on the left side of Stoke’s defence will be their new loan-signing, Stafylidis. With a tattoo of a sliding tackle on his left calf, the Greek defender does not hide his intentions and has proved one of Stoke’s better players since Lambert took charge of the club in mid-January. Likely to be given a test this weekend, he can put himself in the window ahead of a summer of uncertainty regarding where he will ply his trade next season.
With Arsenal’s problems in keeping a clean sheet, the importance of their strike force has been amplified this season. New signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is now the main focal point of this attack, especially in the Premier League as he is cup-tied from European competition.
With Henrikh Mkhitaryan also appearing to have settled into the London lifestyle quickly following the pairs January moves, Arsenal are now in a much stronger position than they were at the start of the season from an attacking point of view.
In facing a club with the league’s worst defensive record (58 goals conceded) Stoke may have tightened up since Lambert’s arrival but Arsenal will be expected to produce goals in this game to prove they’re making progress.
The fate of Stoke’s Premier League status remains firmly in the balance being that a win this weekend would put them level on points with 17th placed Crystal Palace following the Eagles defeat against Liverpool yesterday. A tough run of fixtures makes this task much harder for the Potters and the last few years of failure to develop the team are now biting the club.
With no players making their way through Stoke’s development teams into the first squad and most transfer fees being launched on three players who have all failed to live up to their promise over the last few seasons, a lack of investment in the club’s academy and first team can be pointed as the reason for this.
Mark Hughes spent much of this season stubbornly sticking to a playing system which relied on wing-backs despite not having any strength in this area of his squad and this seems indicative of the way Stoke have fallen headlong into trouble, chasing an idea rather than practically recognising how best to progress the club’s position.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City
Stoke are desperately in need of a positive result this weekend with a draw potentially not enough to help their quest to stay in the top-flight. Arsenal’s home form has been their main asset this season and against a Potters side lacking in confidence and application, they should stretch their good record at the Emirates with another home win.