Tomas Rosicky says Arsenal will have to match the physicality of their opponents if they are to collect three points against Stoke City on Saturday to continue the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.
Arsenal head to the Britannia Stadium trailing their London rivals by just a point with 11 matches remaining. With Manchester City a further two points back and having a game in hand, it promises to be an anxious finish to the campaign. Thoughts are understandably already turning toward what promises to be a decisive run of fixtures when Arsenal face Tottenham, Chelsea , Manchester City and Everton back-to-back in the league. But before that, a victory is required at a place where Arsenal have traditionally struggled.
In five trips to the Britannia Stadium since Stoke’s return to the Premier League, Arsenal have won just once, while recording two draws. Stoke’s renowned aggressive tactics have unsettled Arsenal in the past and, despite Mark Hughes replacing Tony Pulis this season, Rosicky is anticipating a similar challenge this time around.
“[I‘m expecting] a typical game when you go to Stoke,” he told Arsenal’s official website. “It's always very similar -- they are a very physical side, very aggressive and it’s a very tough place to go.
“All the away games are pretty similar so we need to be really well prepared [for a] physical and aggressive style of play. We need to match them in those attributes and, if we do that, we can be successful.”
There is reason for Rosicky to anticipate a familiar physical duel. While Stoke have increased their possession statistics under Hughes, they have also won more aerial duels than any other Premier League side as well as having the dubious honor of heading the disciplinary table. Still, with a more robust central defensive partnership this season and with Mathieu Flamini adding a tenacity to the midfield that has been missing for several seasons, Arsene Wenger will be hoping that his side is now able to cope with the challenge at an always boisterous Britannia Stadium.
Arsenal will again be without a player famously a victim of the sometime over-physicality of Stoke, Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder remains on the sidelines with a thigh injury. Wenger’s chief concern, though, will be at left-back where both Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs are both fitness doubts. If neither makes it then Thomas Vermaelen, himself just returning from injury, could be thrust into the side in his secondary role.
Stoke go into the match equally in need of the points. Just three places and three points currently separates them from the relegation zone. It has been their form at the Britannia, where they have lost just twice this season, which has been keeping them afloat having recorded only six points on their travels.
Having beaten both Chelsea and Manchester United at home, Stoke boss Mark Hughes is looking forward to the challenge of welcoming Arsenal to the Potteries.
“This game doesn’t hold any fears for us, because we have come up against other so called stronger teams in the league and performed really well, especially at home,” he told Stoke City’s official website.
“We are really looking forward to the game to be perfectly honest, and there is absolutely no apprehension in terms of our attitude to the game. It’s all about going out there, doing the right things and then hopefully being rewarded with all three points -- that is the aim.
Stoke will again be without Robert Huth and on-loan Liverpool winger Oussama Assaidi, but are hopeful that Peter Odemwingie and Jonathan Walters will recover from injury and illness, respectively.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC’s Premier League Extra Time, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.