It’s a huge game for us today at Stoke. Absolutely huge.
The Carling Cup final means Manchester United have a week off league action, while Chelsea face a tough lunch-time visit from Manchester City. It’s an opportunity to gain more ground, for sure.
What has surprised me are the number of Arsenal fans are extremely cautious, even worried, about our ability to go and beat stoke at the Britannica. To be perfectly frank, I’m not one of them.
There’s no denying that the last two games we have played Stoke have ended in defeats, 3-1 a couple of weeks ago in the FA Cup and a shabby 2-1 loss at the start of the previous campaign. But many people seem to be ignoring the quality of the team we will be putting out tonight. William Gallas, Andrey Arshavin and Abou Diaby are still out but our first eleven will be excellent.
Manuel Almunia will sit behind a defence of Bacary Sagna, Sol Campbell, Thomas Vermalaen and Gael Clichy. Emmanuel Eboue may get a game on the right after his impressive performance at Sunderland, however I think the manager would be wise to stick with the better defender and reintroduce Sagna. Campbell will provide much-needed in the physicality and with Vermaelen alongside we will have the height and power to deal with set-pieces.
The midfield three will be Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and (hopefully) Aaron Ramsey. All three are good users of the ball and have the aggression and physicality to win the battle in the centre of the park. I feel that Ramsey’s inclusion would be a huge advantage over playing Denilson, allowing us an alternate creative outlet if/when Cesc gets targeted as well as a superior physical presence.
Nicklas Bendtner will surely lead the line and in my opinion will be supported by Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott. Rosicky looks the winger most likely to get us a goal in Arshavin’s absence, while Walcott’s pace will ensure Stoke are stretched at the back in an attempt to turn this into an attacking game. If Walcott puts in a performance as energetic as he did against Sunderland, it will help the team immeasurably.
Other options, meanwhile, come from Samir Nasri, Carlos Vela and the returning Eduardo.
The team above includes just three of the players that started in the FA Cup loss to Stoke a month ago. Frankly, it shouldn’t be used an example of why we might struggle today. I mean, Francois Coquelin was playing at right-back and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas as a striker, for goodness’ sake.
My personal feeling is that we are going to win and win well today.
It’s not that I think it won’t be difficult, just that our team is full of quality and has a full week off, meaning we will be extremely fresh. Games like this tend to be decided more on the application put in by the team: if we apply ourselves well today then the quality should shine through.
I might sound a bit cocky but I assure you I’m not. I just think we will win today.
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