Arsenal host Stoke City at the Emirates on Saturday in desperate need of points as their Champions League aspirations remain worryingly in the balance, but a more interesting talking point is what exactly has happened to the Potters?
It wasn’t so long ago that Premier League managers were falling over themselves to praise Tony Pulis’ side, with David Moyes suggesting they were genuine top-four contenders and Andre Villas-Boas going as far as to say that they has the best defence in Europe.
While it was true that, at that point, Stoke were on a good run and did actually boast the best defensive record in the top flight, the knee-jerkism of those comments have been brought fully into focus now that the men from the Britannia Stadium can’t buy a win and are defending like a team that have never met each other before.
The 3-1 home win over Liverpool on Boxing Day was a memorable victory (even if it did owe as much to the visitors’ weaknesses than any brilliance from the hosts) but that remains Stoke’s solitary win inside 90 minutes in their last 12 games in league and cup, although they did beat Crystal Palace at the Britannia in extra time in their FA Cup third-round replay.
During this run, Stoke have reverted to type, in that they have hardly scored a goal – in nine of those games they have scored one or fewer – but they have also become very un-Stoke-like in conceding goals for fun.
There have been just three clean sheets in that run and lately they have been a shambles at the back: without a win in five in the Premier League, the Potters have let in 15 goals in those matches as their defence has fallen to pieces.
It is not normally what you associate with Pulis’ team and as they head to the Emirates, I don’t see the situation getting any better in the short term.
Stoke are 29/4 and I wouldn’t back that with your money, let alone mine. The draw is 31/10 and Arsenal are 21/50 and while regular readers will know that I generally don’t fancy getting stuck into the Gunners at odds-on, I’m all over them here.
I am not always sweet on Arsenal from a punting point of view because I feel they seldom represent value and with only ten wins from 24 league matches, they don’t win enough games for you to be getting involved with them at short prices.
Yet as regular readers will also know, I need no encouragement to oppose Stoke away from home as they have been absolutely hopeless since they got promoted in 2008 and the Potters’ record on the road is the trump card in this battle and I don’t see anything other than an Arsenal win.
Stoke have won one away game all season, at West Bromwich Albion (who seem to be the only team they can beat on the road), and their record is pitiful.
They have scored just eight in those 12 games (only West Ham United have scored fewer) and this is a historical problem: Stoke have scored just 59 goals in 88 away league fixtures since 2008. That is so poor you don’t need me to elaborate further.
Add into the mix conceding goals and you don’t have a good combination. Arsenal have won seven of their last 11 home games in all competitions, hitting 28 goals, and I think the goals can keep flowing on Saturday.
The Gunners are priced up at 11/10 giving Stoke a goal start and I like that. Arsene Wenger’s team have racked up some big scores at the Emirates this season, hitting three or more on seven occasions and winning by at least two goals in eight of their 16 home games in league and cup to show that when they are good, they can be very good.
That they aren’t good often enough is always a worry when backing Arsenal, but I think with Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud hitting form, they can make the most of a generous Stoke defence.
Arsenal have won the previous four league games at the Emirates between the sides, three of them by at least two goals, and at 11/10, I see no reason why that won’t happen again.