MX23RW : Tuesday, January 22 09:19:31
Aug 19, 2017 at 5.30pm UK at ​bet365 Stadium
Attendance: 29,459
StokeStoke City
Rodriguez (47')
FT(HT: 0-0)

Preview: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

Sports Mole previews Saturday evening's Premier League meeting between Stoke City and Arsenal at the bet365 Stadium.

Arsenal take on Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium in Saturday's late kickoff in the Premier League aiming to maintain their perfect start to the new campaign.

After edging past Leicester City in last weekend's opener, the Gunners are now hoping to win their first two games of a top-flight season for the first time in seven years.

Stoke City

Mark Hughes watches on during the Premier League game between Bournemouth and Stoke City on May 6, 2017© SilverHub

After three-successive seasons of top-half finishes, Stoke were backed by many last summer to potentially push on under experienced boss Mark Hughes and challenge for a place in a European qualification spot.

A dreadful start to the season put paid to those aspirations, though, as they took just three points from their first seven outings and failed to truly find any real momentum over the next seven months of the season.

For the first time since 2013 the Potters had to settle for a place in the bottom half and, following a relatively quiet summer on the whole - less than £10m handed over in transfer fees so far - it perhaps comes as little surprise to see Hughes installed as favourite to become the first manager to be sacked.

That would appear a little harsh on the Welshman from the outside looking in, but he has certainly been warned that an improvement on last term is required. The bad news for the ex-Queens Park Rangers and Blackburn Rovers boss is that Stoke face Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City in four of their next seven outings.

Hughes, who has lost more Premier League matches against opposite number Arsene Wenger (13) than any other manager, saw his side open their Prem campaign with a 1-0 loss to Everton last weekend.

Even that came as little surprise, as City picked up just three points from a possible 36 on offer against the division's top-six sides last time out, losing 11 of those 12 fixtures. Therein lies the Potters' major problem - they cannot seem to beat the sides above them, making anything other than a bottom-half finish the most likely outcome in 2017-18.

The permanent arrival of Bruno Martins Indi from Porto has at least ensured that Stoke will be a little stronger at the back, although even with the big Dutchman in their backline last term they still shipped 56 goals - their worst return since promotion to the big time in 2008.

Misfiring strikers at the other end did not help, either, with Peter Crouch incredibly ending as top scorer, so a big change in fortunes is needed over the next few months if Hughes is to remain in charge at the bet365 Stadium.

Recent form in Premier League: L


Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring during the Premier League game between Arsenal and Leicester City on August 11, 2017© Offside

They may have done it the hard way, requiring two goals in the final 10 minutes at the Emirates Stadium, but all that matters is that Arsenal kicked off their season with all three points against Leicester last weekend.

It was one of the most dramatic opening-game fixtures in the competition's history, seeing the Gunners twice fall behind after taking a lead early on and eventually getting over the line with the aid of supersubs Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.

That it was the latter who scored the winner in the 3-2 victory was particularly special, having been pushed further down the pecking order by the arrival of compatriot Alexandre Lacazette during the summer, yet he still took his chance when it arrived as he so often does.

Prior to Friday night, Arsenal had lost three and drawn two of their previous six opening-game fixtures, though having put an end to that hoodoo there is now real hope of pushing on and holding down a place near the top.

Since reverting to a three-man backline in April, the Gunners have won 11 of their 12 competitive fixtures, including nine at the tail end of last season to narrowly miss out on the top four and their first two of 2017-18 - a Community Shield win over Chelsea kicking things off a fortnight ago.

It is the first time in two decades that Wenger has taken such drastic action, with his new system getting the best out of certain individuals but undoubtedly leaving supporters worried that they are still far too frail at the back.

As good as Arsenal looked at times against Leicester when getting forward, time and time again they appeared nervous in defence and can consider themselves fortunate to have somehow escaped with three points on the board.

New signings Sead Kolasinac and Lacazette both played a key part in the comeback win, the latter of whom is now aiming to become the first Arsenal player to net in his first two Prem appearances for the club. With Liverpool and Chelsea to come in the next month, the Frenchman will have to be firing on all cylinders.

Recent form in Premier League: W

Team News

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring the opener during the Premier League game between Arsenal and Leicester City on August 11, 2017© Offside

Stoke bolstered their attacking ranks with the loan signing of Jese Rodriguez from Paris Saint-Germain in midweek, meaning that they now have more Champions League winners in their squad than any other side in the division.

Both he and fellow new recruit Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting are pushing for their first starts this weekend, while Martins Indi could be welcomed back into the fold after completing his switch from Porto.

Hughes went with a back three against Everton and it remains to be seen whether he will stick with that setup, with Xherdan Shaqiri likely to link up with Choupo-Moting and Jese in the frontline if that proves to be the case.

Star attacker Alexis Sanchez continues to miss out for the visitors due to a niggling injury issue, meanwhile, though he is back in training and will be in contention for the trip to face Liverpool on August 27.

Elsewhere, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi and Francis Coquelin are all expected to be in the squad after missing out last week, while Laurent Koscielny has one final match to serve on the suspension that has carried over from last season.

Aaron Ramsey is likely to be welcomed back into defensive midfield alongside Granit Xhaka following his impressive cameo from the bench on matchday one, providing support from deep for the likes of Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck and lone striker Lacazette.

Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Butland; Zouma, Shawcross, Cameron; Johnson, Allen, Fletcher, Pieters; Shaqiri, Jese, Choupo-Moting

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Mustafi, Mertesacker, Kolasinac; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Welbeck, Ozil; Lacazette

Head To Head

Stoke have tasted defeat against Arsenal just once in their last seven home games, though that solitary loss did come in the most recent encounter in May when falling 4-1.

The Gunners have won four of the last five Premier League ties overall, with the other fixture in that run finishing all square in January 2016.

As well as thrashing the Potters at the bet365 Stadium last term, Wenger's men also won 3-1 in the reverse match to climb to the top of the table close to the midway stage.

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We say: Stoke City 1-3 Arsenal

A difficult start to the season will not help Hughes, who saw his side badly struggle in games against the division's elite teams last term. Stoke are expecting their biggest home crowd since the 1980s following some renovation work during the summer, but Arsenal can surely be expected to ruin the party.

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Arsene Wenger subs off Alexis Sanchez during the Champions League game between Arsenal and Bayern Munich on March 7, 2017
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