Scouting Report: Stoke vs Arsenal

Stoke may have been completely manhandled at Newcastle last weekend but we can’t expect the same of them at the Brittania. And they might not have anything to really play for but the importance of this match for Arsenal cannot be put into words. We know how much the team struggles to play away against teams like Stoke and Newcastle breathing down our necks should be enough motivation for the players to go out there and ensure they don’t undo their good work from the last few months.

The Formation

Stoke play a flat 4-4-2 but the shape of the formation changes depending on whether they are attacking or defending. It doesn’t take a genius to know how Stoke play. Their almost trademarked brand of hoofball will definitely put the pressure on our back line but with enough proactive closing down and good positioning the Arsenal defence should be able to shut down their main form of attack.

The Gameplan

As mentioned, they don’t stick to their flat 4-4-2 with Jonathan Walters dropping into a more attacking midfield role and when put on the back foot you’ll find Peter Crouch isolated up front. Of course there is no better outlet for a team like Stoke than a mountain of a man in Crouch.

Stoke’s spacing is quite poor and they often play more compact that they need to, leaving ample space to exploit, not just in defence but in attack too. Going forward this leaves very little room for support so if Stoke actually play football, it should be easy to cut out their attacks. That being said, there still is a major threat from out wide, which is where most of their attacks come from. Their fullbacks overlap very well and with the height of Crouch in the box this match could turn ugly very quick.

Pace will be very important in getting behind the Stoke defence. Huth and Shawcross won’t be able to stop much if we can get the ball on the wrong side of them. The pair are one of the more formidable center back partnerships in the league but pace isn’t their strong suit. They do, however rely on their positioning and physicality, so it definitely won’t be a cake walk. Arsenal have been attacking mostly from the wings in the last few matches but we can’t really threaten a team like Stoke aerially. We should stick to simple, possession football and attempt to attack through the middle. The less time the ball is at a Stoke player’s feet the better.

Even without Delap, Stoke have more than enough players who can play in the long throw in. This has been a major pain in Arsenal’s side since Stoke’s promotion to the Premier League and you’d hope that by now our defenders would have learned how to deal with it. It would be very optimistic to hope for some defensive solidarity from an long throw. A Stoke player usually backs into the goalkeeper at one of these situations to ensure he doesn’t come out and collect the ball. This also means that even the slightest touch could be a goal so the Arsenal players need to protect Szczesny better.

And while it’s easier said than done, the key to winning the game will be to force Stoke to play the ball on the ground. It would take constant pressure on the ball to make that happen.

The Dangerman

Peter Crouch’s height will be a pain to defend against. And seeing as he is their main and, knowing Walters, their only outlet in attack the ball will be heading in his general direction for a majority of the game. Not to mention he’s the target when Stoke take a long throw so there will be a lot of aerial battles with Crouch over the course of the game.

The Weak Link

Jonathan Walters’ role as a deeper lying striker is strange. Not being a particularly good passer of the ball, he should be targetted and kept out of the game by the Arsenal defence. His attacking movement could pose threats as our defensive line would be pushed back by hoofed balls into the box, allowing him to ghost in behind Crouch. Fortunately, he is a poor finisher as well but Arsenal shouldn’t be taking any chances.

The Verdict

Stoke have nothing to play for but knowing how teams like Stoke seem to step their game up against Arsenal, we should still expect a very tight game. A very late and scrappy goal could win this for Arsenal but it could easily go the other way if we let Stoke play their game.

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About Saurabh

Childhood Arsenal fan. Student of the game.

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