Arsenal face their newest bogey side, following in the footsteps of sides like Bolton previously, in Stoke City (aka Orc City) at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow, 1:30 local time.  Unfortunately for me that means a freaking 4:30 AM kickoff time, which further means a 4 AM wakeup, so I can get the internet feed cranking & the coffee brewing.

Stoke, in recent years has given Arsenal fits inside the Britannia (this includes a 3-1 drubbing in the FA Cup in 2010) due to their very direct, physical, aerial style of play.  To be fair, Stoke have a style that they play well & they play to their strengths- height & physicality on set pieces.  To be unfair, they play a gimmicky, pseudo-soccer mixed with some thuggish tackling that more resembles rugby, hence “the Orcs” moniker.  You have a problem with that, Potters?  Then maybe don’t boo guys who are the ones who receive the injury.  Stay classy, Stoke!

However, Stoke’s rugby-like advantage should be a bit minimized this year as the Premier League pitch dimensions have been standardized this year.  So, Rory Delap & his magic towel’s super throw-ins, will be a bit less threatening, albeit still being a very dangerous threat nonetheless.  So, not giving up cheap set pieces will be a priority.

Stoke’s frontline, regardless of losing their narrow pitch will be led by Jonathan Walters, who is more mobile than he looks for a big man (I believe he’s 6’3″), & as the obligatory heading & physical prowess which has given our defenders fits in recent years, & one, Peter Crouch.  Crouch, once dubber “Bambi On Ice,” though often clumsy looking, is like twelve feet tall (although he only weighs about 125 lbs.) & is actually capable of the odd moment of brilliance in here & there.  Oh & here too.  Though Crouch is probably best none for this.

Delap has to get FAA clearance for his throw-ins…

The official site has a decent scouting report as well as a preview of the Orcs match.

For Arsenal, the news is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be back in the team but Laurent Koscielny remains out with a calf bother.  The latter’s absence (he’s due back next week against Liverpool) means another start for Per Mertesacker & the German’s height will be key in facing Stoke’s aerial assault.  The tall defender’s stats in the air, however, aren’t especially good for someone with Per’s stature.

Arsenal’s possession play will be a big key in this match since Stoke can’t pump balls into the box if they don’t have the ball….s.  So, Arsenal will do well to have both Arteta & Cazorla’s passing & calm on the ball both be of high quality tomorrow.   The possession & passing will also be key following Arsène Wenger’s comments post-Sunderland that he was not happy with the speed of play of passing in the attacking third.

Our finishing obviously has to be much better than it was against Sunderland.  We must take our chances when they come & that will go a long way to keeping the mouth-breathing, injury-booing Stoke fans at bay as the Britannia can become a bit of a seething cauldron when the thug-cheerers are at full voice despite it being on the smallish side for a Premier League ground with a capacity of 28,383, ranking 14th in the EPL.

So it all adds up to a potential Arsenal lineup that likely looks like this:

Szczesny

Djourou — Mertesacker — Vermaelen (c) — Gibbs

Diaby

Arteta —— Cazorla

Oxlae-Chamberlain — Giroud ————- Podolski

Injuries
Arsenal: Koscielny (calf), Rosicky (tendon), Sagna (leg), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (ankle)

Stoke: Pennant (thigh), Whitehead (suspended)

Prediction
I’m thinking Stoke having to play on a bigger field at home really negates their set piece advantage, especially as I don’t think they’ll have much of the possession then in recent years in Arsenal’s travels there.  Having both Mikel Arteta & Santi Cazorla in that aspect will really help out tomorrow.  Stoke will likely play forward a little more than they would since they’re at home & if Wenger drilled passing speed into the boys this week, that could be Stoke’s downfall as we can nick one on the break & make them play where we can then apply even more pressure with our possession & passing style. We’re probably good for a weak goal given up though.      Arsenal 2, Stoke City 1

And finally, let’s Destroy The Orcs!:

Kill the Orcs!
Slay the Orcs!
Destroy the Orcs!

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