English Premier League Preview: Arsenal v Stoke City – Emirates Stadium – 10 December, 2016
Arsenal v Stoke City Preview
From nearly touching the bottom of the table and deep into relegation territory till as recently as September, the Potters have recovered brilliantly to be among the Top ten of the Premier League currently.
A side that lost all but one of their first five games of the 2016-17 season, it was a incredible run of nine matches after that in which they conceded defeat in just one.
The horrific spell of 5 matches in the August-September period saw Stoke concede as many as 14 goals. Contrast that to the mere 5 they have let in their remaining 9 outings.
Apart from the great work at the back by the likes of Glen Johnson, Martins Indi and Marc Muniesa, it’s the phenomenal contribution of 33-year old goal-keeper, Lee Grant that has spear-headed the great Stoke turnaround.
Grant has had the best save success rate of all goal keepers in the current 2016-17 Premier League Season, having stopped 87 per cent of shots on target and a clean 12 per cent ahead of Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, who’s the second-best with 76 per cent. But of some concern to Brendan Rodgers going into Saturday’s clash will be the poor form of Man City loanee, Wilfried Bony.
The Ivorian striker has gone goal-less in eight games, his only score having come through a brace against Swansea City in October. Even regular goal-getters like Joe Allen and Xherdan Shaqiri haven’t found the back of the rivals’ nets even once in the Potters’ last 5 outings. Of the last five goals scored by Stoke, only one has come off a striker’s boots, that from Jonathan Walters, who got his first this season in his side’s 2-0 win over Burnley last weekend.
Arsenal on the other hand are on a high after their entry into the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League. A 1-4 thrashing of Basel in their final UEFA Champions League Group outing away in Switzerland on Tuesday have done their confidence a world of good.
Lucas Perez with a hat-trick makes a strong case for a cut in the starting XI against Stokes. The £17 million import from Spanish club, Deportivo La Coruna, has featured in just 3 Premier League matches so far having being beset by injuries. But having returned now, he joins a host of stars upfront like Alexis Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott and Giroud to continue the Gunners’ relentless hunt for goals.
Last weekend’s 1-5 mauling of West Ham United at the Olympic stadium takes Arsenal’s tally of goals to a staggering count of 33, just two less than Liverpool’s 35.
Arsene Wenger’s men will expect to maintain their unbeaten run of 13 Premier League at the Emirates on Saturday and bookmakers‘ odds overwhelmingly point to such an outcome. But there’s a slim chance that a resurgent Stoke could have surprises in store.