Arsene Wenger will hope to put injury and transfer trouble behind him when Arsenal return to action against Stoke City on Saturday. The international break has been dominated by discussion surrounding Danny Welbeck’s injury setback and Wenger’s subsequent failure to bolster his forward line in the closing stages of the transfer window. And ahead of the visit of Stoke, Wenger even had to deny that he lied about the extent of Welbeck’s injury, having stated in his press conference ahead of the win over Newcastle United two weeks ago that he expected the England forward back after the international break.
Arsenal’s forward options have come under particular scrutiny early on this season, with the team scoring just two goals in their first four matches. So far none have been scored at home, as Arsenal have taken just a solitary point from their opening two games at the Emirates Stadium. Wenger, though, is adamant that his squad has what it takes to improve.
"Of course, I am confident I have enough cover and enough quality,” he said in his pre-match press conference. "The only good news after the transfer window is that finally we can talk a bit about football. That is what we love. And what can improve the squad as well is the quality of the work we do and the quality of our spirit and the quality of our competitiveness, which is needed in every single game.
"We have Sánchez , we have Giroud and we have Walcott. I think it is about the efficiency and the quality of our game, we can score goals and I am not worried about that."
Welbeck was not the only Arsenal player to suffer an injury setback in the past two weeks. Jack Wilshere was also scheduled to be back in contention against Stoke, but continues to be ruled out with an ankle problem picked up ahead of the season. Wenger could, though, have his full quota of defensive options back available, with Per Mertesacker having returned to training after missing the past two days with a virus.
Unlike Arsenal, Stoke have made no shortage of changes to their squad over the summer transfer window. As yet, though, a new-look team under Mark Hughes has failed to hit their stride. Hughes has continued to transform the side that was renowned for its physicality and aggressiveness, not least in battles with Arsenal, under Tony Pulis. Add to skilled attackers already brought in, such as Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic, Hughes has added talented former Bayern Munich starlet Xherdan Shaqiri and former Barcelona winger Ibrahim Afellay, among others.
But gone has some of the old defensive resolve, and Stoke have yet to keep a clean sheet in four Premier League matches that have seen them take just two points. That has not been helped by the continued absence through injury of center-back Ryan Shawcross. And Hughes’ options will be further limited against Arsenal by suspensions to Afellay and Charlie Adam, after both were sent off in a 1-0 defeat at home to West Brom last time out.
Stoke will also have to overcome a miserable record at the Emirates, which has seen them lose all seven encounters since their return to the Premier League in 2008. Hughes, though, believes the changes he has made could help put an end to that unwanted streak.
"I would like to think that we are better equipped than we have been in seasons past to go down there and deal with them given the quality of player we have inside the building now," he said, according to Stoke City’s official website. "We have been to other very difficult places and picked up good results; obviously Manchester City springs to mind, so we know we are able to take positive results from these games."
Prediction: It should only be a matter of time before Stoke’s increased quality in attacking areas begins to gel. But, while it is unlikely to be straightforward, Arsenal could find Stoke’s rearguard sufficiently inviting to secure a first goal and first victory at home this season.
Predicted score: Arsenal 2-1 Stoke
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: USA Network
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra