Educated Guesswork: Arsenal to edge out Stoke City

Asmir Begovic Stoke V Arsenal

Arsenal are being backed to defeat Stoke City this weekend.

There will be a number of stories developing over the country this weekend. Chelsea face a tricky trip to Newcastle whilst Manchester City take on a stuttering Everton side at the Etihad. Sunderland tackle their 3rd 'big' club in as many games at Anfield and Southampton host Manchester United on Monday night hoping to tighten their grip on a place in the top 4 after losing their last 2 games.

But there will be no other game this weekend that has the potential to be as fiery as the game taking place at the Britannia stadium between Stoke and Arsenal in one of the 3pm Saturday kick offs.

Ever since Ryan Shawcross broke Aaron Ramsey's leg and Wenger suggested Stoke played Rugby, a bitter rivalry has been building between the two clubs. And with Ryan Shawcross suggesting this week that Stoke will be ready for a "tasty game", the stakes have been raised for a fixture that Arsenal haven't had a great deal of success in over the years. But looking at the stats, who will come out on top this time around?

Stoke have lost their last three games and find themselves in 13th place in the Premiership. And whilst the style of football that Stoke are playing under Mark Hughes has changed, this season they have struggled for goals and have averaged just a goal a game. Meanwhile, Shawcross has spoken this week about turning the Britannia Stadium back into a fortress - and that is because defensively Stoke have been poor - conceding over a goal a game (both home and away) and only keeping a 17% clean sheet record at home. Stoke will have to up their game to take on Arsenal and deliver the performance of their season.

Following hard fought victories over Borussia Dortmund, West Brom and Southampton, Arsenal are experiencing a resurgence in form (albeit too late to challenge for the title) and find themselves in 6th place. However recent successes haven't come without a cost as Arsenal's injury list is extensive and they find themselves waiting on the fitness of Koscielny and Gibbs before the game. Arsenal have kept clean sheets in their last two league games and defensively are ranked second in the Premiership away from the Emirates, but being without two key defenders could well impact that record.

Meanwhile whilst Sanchez has clearly been the star for Arsenal going forward, Welbeck's contribution can't be overlooked either as Arsenal have only failed to score in one fixture this season (against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge). And whilst Arsenal haven't been scoring to the level they have in recent seasons, they are still averaging nearly a goal and a half a game away from home - and that record should continue against Stoke.

Games like this are always hard to call and given the build-up I'd expect a number of cards to be shown (Flamini). It's unlikely that Arsenal will risk any forwards or midfielders on the verge of coming back from injury (Walcott, Diaby) but should Koscielny or Gibbs be passed fit then they will be in the starting line-up (and if they aren't then Stoke will definitely get chances). Interestingly though, Arsenal's last 5 Premiership games have all been 0-0 at half time - and I wouldn't be surprised if this game was the same. It will also be interesting to see how Arsenal tackle the physical side of Stoke as they haven't got many options available. Potentially though, Oxlaide-Chamberlain could drop back to the middle of the park alongside Flamini and Giroud could return to the starting line-up alongside Welbeck and Sanchez.

Verdict: (A very scrappy) Stoke 0 Arsenal 1 (or 2-1 to Arsenal if Koscielny / Gibbs aren't fit)

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