No Szczesny, No Koscielny: Make-shift Arsenal May Struggle At Stoke

Two key components of Arsenal's defence are missing today, and the team are still getting to know each other in attack. It might be an even tougher trip to Stoke than usual...
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Two key components of Arsenal's defence are missing today, and the team are still getting to know each other in attack. It might be an even tougher trip to Stoke than usual...

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Arsenal’s recent struggles at the Britannia Stadium have been well-documented. In the last five meetings between the sides in Stoke, the Potters have won three, the Gunners winning just one, the other a draw. The only time Arsenal triumphed was when Aaron Ramsey broke his leg, and the incident seemed to spur the Gunners, Cesc Fabregas in particular, to taking all three points in injury time.

Although there has been a vague of quiet optimism at Arsenal – somewhat deterred, however, by the disappointing end to the Nuri Sahin saga – few are ever confident about a trip to the Britannia. Much has been made of how interesting the tactical battle is, and while for neutrals it may be a fascinating clash of styles, for Arsenal fans, a trip to Stoke is rarely enjoyable.

It will be quite a test for this new look Arsenal team. Santi Cazorla faced a stubborn Sunderland team, one including Lee Cattermole at that, but should he play, he may be surprised at the physicality of the game. Arsenal players often return from Stoke wounded, and Arsène Wenger will be hoping that his new creative maestro will come out unscathed, as well as being able to positively affect the game.

Cazorla and Gervinho would give Arsenal guile out wide, something much needed against a defence which is likely to resemble a parked vehicle of some sort

Olivier Giroud was signed to help replace Van Persie, and it’s expected to be him and not Lukas Podolski that leads the line. Giroud is a powerful, tall front man who’s at his best when linking up with team mates, holding the ball up, using his strength and winning it in the air, and those are things that will suit him to playing Stoke. It’s no coincidence that the last time Arsenal won against Stoke they had a similar player up front – Nicklas Bendtner scored a towering headed equaliser and won a penalty.

Another player that people have suggested was signed for games like these is Per Mertesacker, the 6 foot 6 giant. However, his height is slightly misleading – he’s best suited at reading the game on the floor and neatly tidying up play at the back. As such, the injured Laurent Koscielny is probably a big miss – unlike Mertesacker, he’s very aggressive in the air when balls come in, even if he lacks a few inches.

Also likely to be missing for Arsenal is Wojciech Szczesny, and nobody is in doubt about how big a blow that is. Replacing him is likely to be Lukasz Fabianski, and while he’s not necessarily a bad goalkeeper, he has been known to struggle when balls come in from the box. He’s a fantastic shot stopper, but doesn’t quite impose himself in the air – similar to David De Gea in that sense. He’s likely to find it tricky against Stoke as they look to bombard Arsenal with aerial attacks.

Another player that people have suggested was signed for games like these is Per Mertesacker, the 6 foot 6 giant. However, his height is slightly misleading – he’s best suited at reading the game on the floor and neatly tidying up play at the back.

With the losses of Koscielny and Szczesny, things look bleak for Arsenal at the back, and while Giroud will offer a much-needed aerial presence, the cohesion wasn’t there in attack last Saturday, and that’s unlikely to have changed too much. Stoke at the Britannia are difficult to breach for Arsenal at the best of times, and it’s difficult to see that changing with an attack that’s still gelling.

It’s possible that Arsenal will employ Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arteta in midfield, with Cazorla and Gervinho, Arsenal’s trickiest players, out wide; the afore-mentioned Giroud as the lone striker. Cazorla and Gervinho would give Arsenal guile out wide, something much needed against a defence which is likely to resemble a parked vehicle of some sort, but the midfield trio might not quite be up to the standards.

Arteta is Arsenal’s Mr Reliable, and Wenger will have no qualms about selecting his diminutive but gritty Spaniard. Abou Diaby, however, is the complete opposite – a number of Stoke’s players could snap him like a twig, and while he’s quite tall, he doesn’t seem to know how to use his physique, and is often bullied off of the ball, so that could be a concern for Arsenal.

All in all, it’s a slightly make-shift Arsenal side, with injuries to Szczesny, Koscielny, Sagna and Wilshere taking the biggest toll – not to mention the need for reinforcements in midfield in particular.

As for Chamberlain, for all of his promise, he still hasn’t been fully converted into a centre midfielder – which is Arsène Wenger’s eventual plan for his starlet. He’s eager to get stuck in, but is still prone to over-elaborating and running into dead ends. Still, his defensive game has improved, so he won’t be that much of a liability.

All in all, it’s a slightly make-shift Arsenal side, with injuries to Szczesny, Koscielny, Sagna and Wilshere taking the biggest toll – not to mention the need for reinforcements in midfield in particular. A win at the Britannia is a great result for Arsenal at the best of times, and with the North London side not yet in the best shape they may struggle.

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