Stoke vs Arsenal
There are opposites in life, night and day, black and white, sadness and happiness. Then there is Arsenal and Stoke, it is like football versus anti-football matter versus anti-matter. This week sees the FA Cup giving us a classic tie that see opposites meet, Stoke beat Arsenal last season and have since been a bogey team for Arsenal.
Stoke is one of the few teams Wenger dreads facing, and he can expect at least 3 injuries in this game.
Stoke will have several ambulances waiting for Arsenal as they victimise the delicate Arsenal kids with brutality. As horrible as Stoke are, they are getting results and have one of the tightest defences coupled with a good home record.
Their manager Tony Pulis is taking the Sam Allardyce route – get promoted, get a squad of 6 foot players and play physical. Only later after some years in the league can you start to play cute stuff. So Stoke are big and physical and aim to dominate their opponents by strength.
Wenger will have to play some bigger players to counter this threat of being bullied off the park. The loss of Alexandre Song is massive, they needed his presence and work rate but Abou Diaby has stepped up to be their most important player. Diaby rarely gives the ball away, has pace and power but also intuition for a good pass.
Both sides do not have an obvious scorer but Arsenal is a goal machine, 18 different players have scored this season and their playmaker is also top-scorer.
Fabregas is on fire this season with 14 goals and many assists. What he gives his team is a real thoughtful approach to collective problem-solving. Like against Bolton, they were 2-0 down and came back to win 4-2.
Stoke is a very hard problem to solve, they let you have the ball but harass you at any given opportunity. Their biggest strength is their opponent’s biggest weakness – set pieces.
Stoke will send their big guns forward for every corner, free-kick, and their big weapon is throw-ins. Ryan Shawcross, Abdulaye Faye, James Beattie and Rory Delap pose a threat with their presence.
Wenger can try to match Stoke for strength but do not have the players to do it. They have to opt for smaller more agile players, but they will need to play guerrilla tactics evading a bigger less mobile opponent.
Finding space to pass will be the key, Fabregas has to drop deeper to link up play.
Stoke will have to play tough without giving up fouls, zonal marking is the only option but this will leave holes for deeper runners to exploit.
Their only chance is to grind Arsenal down and make the game ugly then hope for a header from a set-piece. They also have to watch out for Arshavin who will try to sneak into any spaces left at the back.