Arsenal face a difficult trip to the Bet365 Stadium to face one of their bogey sides from recent seasons in Stoke City. The Gunners haven’t won in their last seven visits to the Potters and they won’t feel confident ahead of Saturday’s match. It is a fixture that the North London side must win as they have no room for error in their chase for a top-four finish. Although the home side have little to play for, they will be desperate to record another good result over Arsene Wenger’s men and put an end to their challenge for a Champions League place.
It has been another comfortable mid-table season for Mark Hughes and Stoke City, which represents success of sorts, but they would have been hoping for further progression, especially given the talent in the squad. Although the Welshman has done a good job since taking over from Tony Pulis, it will be interesting to see if he stays in his post over the summer as it could be the right time to make a change. It is important that he ends the season strongly and earns a top-half finish to remove any doubt about his position.
The Gunners are having one of the worst seasons in their recent history and the pressure on Arsene Wenger is at an all-time high. However, recent results have seen them move into touching distance of the top four and they have a genuine chance of securing Champions League football if they win their last three matches. The switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation has revitalised the squad and back-to-back wins over Manchester United and Southampton provide them with positive momentum at a crucial time.
Stoke have gone off the boil since the turn of the year and a poor run during their last nine matches have seen them drop into the bottom half. They have won only once across that period and that came against a relegation-threatened Hull City. Although they have drawn their last two matches, they still don’t look convincing and they will be there for the taking unless their performance level improves massively.
After some disastrous results immediately following their Champions League exit, Arsenal have recovered recently and are now just three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City. Four wins in five league matches since their change of formation has seen them move into contention. Although they have been picking up good results, they have played with no pressure. That will change this weekend.
Erik Pieters could come back into the team to start at left-back in place of Marc Muniesa. Mame Biram Diouf is likely to retain his place after a goal against Bournemouth last weekend.
Wenger won’t want to make too many changes to the team, but Hector Bellerin will definitely replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Laurent Koscielny is also likely to start if he is passed fit.
Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay are the only two players that will be missing for the home side this weekend. The rest of the squad will be available to Mark Hughes.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up an injury during mid-week and is likely to miss the rest of the league season. They could be boosted by the return of Laurent Koscielny, but Santi Cazorla remains out.
Match Prediction: Stoke City 1-2 Arsenal
This has been a difficult fixture for Arsenal in recent seasons and it won’t be one that the fans will be looking forward to. However, they have been impressive recently and they should have enough to take the three points.
Stoke don’t have anything substantial to play for and that is likely going to lead to an away win. The 3-4-2-1 formation isn’t perfect, but it has given the Gunners’ players belief again. They should make it five wins from six this weekend.