Sixth-place Arsenal takes on Stoke at home at the Emirates Stadium in London on Feb. 2 in an important English Premier League showdown. While Stoke is typically stuck in mid table in 10th place, Arsenal needs as many points as they can muster to overtake fifth-place Everton and fourth-place Tottenham to secure a berth in next season’s Champions League. Spurs have a four-point lead on the Gunners while Everton is three ahead of them.
Arsenal’s last match took place on Wednesday at home where they fell behind 2-0 to Liverpool after an hour and then fought back to level the game at 2-2 with a pair of goals in three minutes. It was a typical Arsenal game though, which meant their defending was horrible and their attacking was sublime.
A game against the mediocre Stoke team could help solve their problems since the visitors have managed just one victory in their past nine league contests and it’s hard to understand how manager Tony Pulis has managed to hang onto his job there. The two teams met earlier in the season and it was a dull affair which ended in a 0-0 draw. Stoke threw away a 2-0 lead in their last match and it also ended in a 2-2 draw with Wigan.
Arsenal managed just one win in five tries in January and it’s going to be a tough task to make up ground. Manager Arsene Wenger finally bought some new blood for his squad after defender Kieran Gibbs suffered a thigh injury against Liverpool and is expected to be out for up to six weeks. Wenger dipped into the transfer market and acquired Nacho Monreal, a 26-year-old Spanish international from Malaga.
Wenger will likely be missing midfielders Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta for the game, but one of them could be in the squad. Thomas Vermaelen will be a game time decision due to an ankle problem. Theo Walcott will lead the attack and he has 11 league goals and 18 overall this season. Olivier Giroud is also starting to find the net with five goals in his last three matches and Lukas Podolski’s also a cool finisher.
Stoke is a pretty good defensive team, but they sacrifice offense for it and rarely win a game. Pulis is happy just not to lose, but he’s throwing away two points with each draw. They’ve also started to let goals in at an alarming rate now too as they let 15 in during five January games. Pulis strengthened the team by adding American international midfielder Brek Shea, but he’s likely to leave him on the bench as he has been doing far too often with Michael Owen and Peter Crouch.
These former Liverpool strikers rarely play as Stoke are struggling for goals with just 24 on the season. Crouch has five goals in limited minutes and Jonathan Walters has equaled it. Stoke’s keeper Asmir Begovic is solid and has nine clean sheets so far this season. Pulis will be without Marc Wilson, but everybody else is pretty healthy.
Arsenal has three wins, a draw and a loss in their past five games while Stoke has a win, a draw and three losses overall. Stoke has been a thorn in Arsenal’s side the past few years. They have the talent to win games, but Pulis simply doesn’t know how to utilize his players, so look for an Arsenal win here.
William Hill has the latest odds of an Arsenal win at 4/9 with a Stoke victory at 9/1 and a draw at 14/5