Isn’t it great that this early into the season, Arsenal get to make their favourite away trip of the year and go and see all their friends up at the Britannia Stadium?
It has all the makings of a lovely Sunday afternoon up in the Potteries: the Stoke fans can get their welcome mats out for their like-minded brethren, Tony Pulis and Arsene Wenger will be able to chat about old times and Aaron Ramsey can mess around with his old mucka Ryan Shawcross in what is always a pleasant meeting of two clubs who have so much in common.
Okay, before I get irate fans from both sides on my back I will stop there. Not living in a utopian paradise, the above couldn’t be further from the truth and the Gunners will be looking at Sunday’s visit to Stoke with more of a ‘let’s get this out the way early on’ attitude rather than the genuine excitement that normally arrives with a first away game of the season.
And to be honest, you can’t blame them. Trips to the Britannia have brought very little other than pain and anguish for Arsenal, as the two most diametrically opposed Premier League clubs in terms of style, philosophy and ethos started off on the wrong foot with a relationship that has just deteriorated ever since.
Everyone knows how Stoke are going to play: you know, I know, Arsenal know, but the Gunners seem unable to do anything about it and their present squad doesn’t fill me with confidence that this will change.
Pulis has loved few things more than getting one over on Wenger and since Stoke were promoted to the top flight in 2008, at the Britannia he has done exactly that more often than not. In the five fixtures (including an FA Cup tie in 2010), Stoke have won three and drawn one, and even the match Arsenal won managed to sour the feeling between the clubs after the horrendous tackle by Shawcross that broke Ramsey’s leg.
It was perhaps that incident and its aftermath more than any other that highlighted the differences between these two clubs and the next instalment of the grudge match promises to be no less vitriolic than previous encounters.
Stoke are 23/10 to win it, with the draw at 17/5 and the Gunners at 11/10, and looking at Arsenal over the last six weeks makes you think that this is a game that could revert to type once more.
Everyone knows how Stoke are going to play: you know, I know, Arsenal know, but the Gunners seem unable to do anything about it and their present squad doesn’t fill me with confidence that this will change, especially if their opening-day goalless draw with Sunderland is any indication.
You can imagine Shawcross, Robert Huth et al licking their lips at the prospect of roughing up Arsenal new boys Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski (you wonder if they know what they are letting themselves in for) and once again there looks to be a lack of steel to Wenger’s side that plays into the hands of Stoke.
For such a limited team who invariably struggle on the road, the Potters had a great time against the top ten at home last year, posting a 3-5-2 record to keep up their impressive work at the Britannia, where a lack of goals doesn’t seem to do them as much harm as it should. Those ten games brought just 11 home goals, but that was miraculously turned into 14 points, probably because there was only one match in which Stoke failed to notch.
In fact, Stoke failed to find the net just three times at home last season despite scoring only 25 goals and with a Potters goal therefore likely, I am unsure that Arsenal, who still look short of peak condition and continue to reel from the departures of Alex Song and you-know-who, are able to score twice while Wenger’s new-look team is still finding its feet.
It makes the 3/4 that Stoke do not get beat, which has happened in four of the five meetings at the Britannia, the advisable play.
Both teams have scored in all five of those meetings, so it could be worth an outside punt on 1-1, a 5/1 shot, which was the result when the sides met in April and has been the scoreline in seven of Stoke’s last 11 Premier League fixtures.
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