Stoke preview – remember the 56%

Morning to you. I hope this finds you in fine fettle and ready for the football that lies ahead.

It’s Stoke, of course. They don’t like us, we don’t like them, and there’s the added spice of Ramsey’s return to the ground where Lennie oafishly snapped his leg in two. Hopefully, after today, that will be consigned to history and no more will need to be said about it. There’s clearly a need for Aaron to get over this little hurdle – to deal with facing Shawcross again and some Stoke fans who would take pleasure in him being injured again. As I said yesterday though, if the taunts of people so stupid they have to think about breathing bother you, then you need to find a different career.

The more interesting aspect is which team we’re going to put out. There were doubts over Djourou and Clichy and we know Cesc, Diaby and Nasri are all missing. Two very important players there. I have a feeling Djourou will make it but I also have a feeling the Djouscielny axis will be broken up to give us a taste of Djourmaelen. Thomas traveled with the team yesterday and according to Robin van Persie’s Twitter he’s ‘sharp as a razor’.

He might need to be because we know what kind of a threat Stoke pose. From set-pieces and throw-ins anywhere in our half the ball is going to be fizzed into our box and we’re going to have to defend like … erm … defenders. 56% of the goals we’ve conceded have come from set-pieces, Stoke will know that and will try and capitalise. Perhaps Vermaelen’s return will help. He’s an aggressive defender and an organiser too, so let’s hope if he plays he can make a difference.

There’s not much we can do about Towelie’s throw-ins but preventing delivery into the box from open play will be crucial. Whether it’s Gibbs or Clichy at left back today they’ll have to keep an eye on former Gunner Jermaine Pennant. He’s quite the crosser so closing him down, and/or stopping supply to him, will play a big part.

From our point of view the only other decision the boss has to make is who he uses to replace Nasri. The obvious candidate is Arshavin and if the boss was suitably impressed with his tackle frenzy last Sunday he may well use him. All the same I do wonder if he’ll be tempted to use either Chamakh or Bendtner to add a bit of height and aerial ability to the team. 56% of our goals, you know, and the stronger we are back there the better, even if it means sacrificing a little up front.

There really is no need to go over the rest of it, is there? There is no love lost between anybody today. Reading that Stoke message board linked to in yesterday’s blog was really quite depressing. It was also telling how the moderators of that board suddenly developed a sense of right and wrong after being linked to, on Twitter, by Barry Glendenning of the Guardian. They deleted posts that referred to Ramsey breaking his leg again but those comments were only unacceptable after exposure in the mainstream. Until then they were quite happy to allow them.

So there’s ‘spice’ to this one all right. Admittedly much of it was from the all mouth and no trousers brigade but it stirred things up all the same. We can’t be distracted today, however. There’s still the aim of finishing as high up the table as we can and there’s a real need to follow up on the win against United and prove we can add a bit of consistency to our game. Maybe Stoke might have an eye on the cup final and that’s something we can take advantage of, but the most important thing is our own approach and how we play.

If we show the same effort and composure as we did against United on Sunday then I think this is a game we should win. It won’t be easy. It never is at Stoke but taking three points today would be another small step in the right direction. A Ramsey goal would be the icing on that cake. Fingers crossed.

If you’re unable to view the game later there’ll be live blog coverage as usual, starting as soon as we have team news, so probably around 1-1.15pm. Check back later for the blog post and the team info. And remember, if you fancy a flutter on the game, our Arsenal Odds page gives you the best odds from a range of bookies – with some nice free/bonus bets too. So check it out.

In other news there’s some transfer speculation regarding Denilson with Sevilla said to be interested. I believe a move to Spain could well be one of his options. Meanwhile, Nasri’s ‘replacement’ could be German ‘wonderkid’ Mario Goatze.

Goatze playing for Arsenal. Pardon me whilst I heh.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry in the slightest. You’re much better off.

Right, time for breakfast, check back around 1pm for details of the live blog. Until then.

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