It’s not much of a curse. But we do have a rather poor record at the Brittania, the home of the Mighty Orcs. We have a good chance to turn that around tomorrow, and I hope we take it. Three things come to mind that help swing things in our favor.
One: our defence looks solid. Last season, when we had most of our defenders fit, we did well defensively (by our standards). Stoke will try their usual method of aerial bombardment but I feel we have gotten increasingly more adept at dealing with them. Szczesny’s fitness will be key (he has a minor knock) as he is extremely comfortable coming out and dealing with set pieces. Mertesacker now adds a bit of height, too, and if Koscielny was available I’d put him on the right just to provide even more aerial prowess to our defence. But as it stands, even with Jenks at RB, we should be OK. We were very solid against Sunderland, and I don’t see why things should change tomorrow.
Two: Wenger has suggested that the best way to deal with Stoke is to keep the ball. Our possession game will be hugely important. Last season we tended to struggle to keep possession in away games, especially without Arteta mashalling the midfield. With the addition of Cazorla and Diaby our midfield has a much more technical look to it, and I think we’ll keep the ball well and make it difficult for Stoke to get the ball let alone create chances. Gervinho and Walcott on the wings might not be the best way to go about the possession tactic, so one of Ramsey or Cazorla could be pushed wide.
Three: The new EPL ruling regarding pitch sizes. The Arsenal Arsenal blog did a great, detailed piece on it (http://arsenalarsenal.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/rule-change-will-stymie-stoke-in-arsenals-favour/). Basically, Stoke, like other clubs, played on a much smaller pitch than Arsenal’s, which gave them an advantage. Now, every club will have to conform to the UEFA regulation pitch size, which would add 800 sq. yards to Stoke’s pitch. All that extra space will help our players, and it will be a lot more like playing at the Emirates. Besides the booing and abuse and the ugly faces, the Arsenal players should feel right at home, and we know how bad Stoke are when they play us at home. They always get hammered.
But the advantage for Arsenal aside, I’m not a big fan of the new ruling. It allowed for more variety, more diversity in the Premier League, and gave football more character. We’re not big fans of Stoke’s neanderthal approach to football but it makes these games interesting. Their style might be all about brainlessly lumping balls in the air, but you have to be clever to beat them. And yes, I do put the emphasis on cleverness, because trying to beat fire with fire at the Britannia is futile. We have to play our natural game and beat them with our superior technique. So I’m not worried about the size and strength of our midfield, it’s all about how well we can pass the ball tomorrow.