On a run of six consecutive wins in all competitions, Arsenal will be further boosted for Sunday’s visit of Stoke City by the return to fitness of midfielder Mikel Arteta. Arsenal’s thin squad has been especially tested in the opening weeks of the season with injuries to several players. Yet, Arsene Wenger has led the club to second spot in the early weeks of the Premier League while getting their Champions League group stage campaign off to a fine start with a 2-1 win in Marseille in midweek. And Wenger is pleased that he could now welcome back Arteta.
“He is very influential and he's a leader -- one of the leaders of the team and he's a technical leader as well,” Wenger said, according to Arsenal.com. “We are happy to have him back as well because at the moment with the number of injuries we have, we are a bit short and we have plenty of games in front of us, so it's good news.”
It has been another midfielder that has grabbed many of the headlines in the early weeks of the season. Much criticized last term, Aaron Ramsey has responded in sensational fashion with six goals already to his name. After a career-threatening injury suffered against Sunday’s opponents in February 2010, Wenger concedes that it has taken the Wales international a long time to fully recover, but that he always remained confident in Ramsey’s ability.
"It was in the last three or four months of last season when he started to come back,” he said. “He had a difficult period in mid-season where people became a little bit impatient with him. I always thought he would score goals if he improved his technical quality. When you watched the games, you saw him always in good positions in the box.”
While Stoke’s physical approach under Tony Pulis should in theory have been a problem for an Arsenal side often accused of having a soft underbelly, the Potters have lost on all five of their visits to the Emirates in the Premier League. Pulis is now gone, of course, and Mark Hughes has had some positive early results as he looks to alter the side’s style of play. A week ago, Stoke frustrated Manchester City in a goalless draw.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Ramsey, Flamini
Walcott, Ozil, Wilshere
Stoke City (probable)
D: Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters
M: Walters, Wilson, N’Zonzi, Adam, Etherington
Prediction: With Arteta only likely to be fit enough for a place on the bench, the Arsenal side still almost picks itself. While playing Jack Wilshere in an advanced role is not ideal, the enforced consistency of selection may actually prove beneficial at this stage of the season in preserving the side’s good run of form.
Under Hughes, Stoke have been looking to keep the ball more than before, but there has hardly been a revolution in style of play and their strengths largely remain the same. Stoke have little to threaten from open play and, if Arsenal can remain disciplined from set-pieces, the home side should pick up the three points.
Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League encounter will kick-off at 8.30 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by CNBC, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.