Welcome back. So after the last minute agony of Anfield on Wednesday, we travel to Stoke City tomorrow looking to secure what would be just our second Premier League victory at the Britannia stadium, having drawn two and lost the other four of the seven we’ve played at their place since they were promoted in 2008.
After Manchester City beat Crystal Palace 4-0 and Leicester picked up a point at Aston Villa earlier today, we’ve dropped to third in the table on goal difference, but do now have the chance to go two points clear at the top should we win against Mark Hughes’ men, so hopefully that will provide a little bit of extra motivation as we go into the game.
In terms of team news, Arsene Wenger provided an update when he spoke at his pre-match press conference yesterday morning, saying:
From Liverpool we have no injuries, so that’s good news. (Mohamed) Elneny is available for selection, I haven’t decided yet [whether I will play him]. I have to see how everyone has recovered. Elneny is a possibility to be in the squad for Sunday. Alexis (Sanchez) I would say has a 60:40 chance to be available and be back in the squad. He has two decisive days – Friday and Saturday. He is fit, he has worked very hard and the decision we have to take is whether to take a gamble or not on his injury. Tomas (Rosicky) needs first to have a game somewhere. We hope for maybe an under-21 game or at least a bit more training with the first team.
Even if they don’t start the match, based on the above it seems pretty certain both new signing Mohamed Elneny and Alexis Sanchez will be available from the bench, which is clearly great news considering we’ve been relying on the same 13 or 14 players for a while now, including the busy festive period.
Although I’d love to see him in action from the start against Stoke, when you consider that because of a two-month winter break in the Swiss league, Elneny hasn’t featured in a competitive game since December 13th, when he played (and scored) for former club Basel in the Schweizer Pokal, the Swiss domestic cup competition, it’s very unlikely he’ll be thrown in from the get-go at the Britannia.
As for Sanchez, despite also not playing for a similar amount of time, I wouldn’t be so sure he won’t come straight back into the starting selection. It’s Alexis, after all, and we all know he’d play whatever his physical condition, given half a chance. And if he does start, based on form over the last couple of games at least, Theo Walcott will surely be the man to make way, because Olivier Giroud and Joel Campbell are on fire, relatively speaking.
Whoever is selected to play though, we’ll have to make sure we start the game better than we did in this fixture last season, when Stoke took the lead in the first minute and we went into the interval losing three-nil. Arsene discussed that game, as well as the development of Stoke’s style-of-play, when he spoke to Arsenal Player:
Last season we had a very bad start and I think we have more experience now and we are more stable defensively. We have a good opportunity to show that. Stoke have improved their creative potential and we will want a really strong defensive display from our side because players like Arnautovic, Afellay and Bojan are all very creative players. Stoke is a team that is in progress. We have had difficulty there in the past. When you look at the results year by year we are not the only ones to have had difficulties. They produce top-quality performances against Manchester City and Manchester United and that shows it is a big chance for everybody. They have a strong record against us at home and they will have to maintain it but for us it is a good challenge to prove that we have made a step forward and can change that record.
If we’re honest, there’s no denying Stoke have certainly progressed from the long-ball, long-throw, leg-breaking merchants they were for so long. But they are still a very physical side, so first and foremost, we’ll have to match them in that aspect of the contest before our undoubtedly superior footballing quality has a chance to shine through.