Side with Santi stardust
Clashes between Stoke and Arsenal have very quickly developed a reputation. It has come to be regarded not simply as a meeting of two top-flight sides, but a battle between brawn and style, between the firm-but-fair Potters and the effete, waifish Gunners, between Ray Winstone and David Bowie.
It is not an utterly unfair picture but it is one drawn in part by the verbal jousting afterwards rather than the action itself. There have been robust challenges but those are by no means unique to the Britannia Stadium.
Over the past four seasons the hosts have enjoyed a good record against Arsene Wenger’s men, winning two and drawing one of the four games in the Potteries and also tasting success in a 2010 FA Cup tie. But such is the padding which surrounds this fixture it is easy for the basics to get lost. After those years of relative success in the Premier League, we fancy that City may be in for a slight regression.
Tony Pulis’ squad is not significantly weaker than in previous campaigns but as the threat of Rory Delap has begun to wane, they look short of spark. There is a danger of the Potters falling into a one-paced predictability with the squad wiser but also older. This is no damning criticism; the club remain stable and with a relatively settled squad but lack the wherewithal to inject a real dose of creativity. The sort Santi Cazorla looks set to bring the Gunners.
The Spanish international enjoyed an encouraging debut in Saturday’s stalemate with Sunderland and he can provide the sort of incision which has been lacking in North London in recent seasons. Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho have flattered to deceive in similar roles while Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky have been unable to come up with a supply line on a regular basis.
Of course, it is impossible to ignore the departures of Robin van Persie and Alex Song entirely but examine the current crop on their own merits: while they may not have the depth of a title-winning group, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are additions of the ilk Arsenal fans have been calling for in seasons past.
We’re not willing to read too much into their opening result given the Black Cats’ conservative approach at the Emirates and indeed if City are willing to take the game to their visitors, spurred on by those recent meetings, Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Poldoski can flourish.
The players who have helped develop Stoke’s uncompromising reputation make up the back line – Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross and Andy Wilkinson – but the roaming Gunners attackers can do their damage in deeper areas. There, they are likely to come up against players more prone to passing than punishment.
In fact, we’re confident enough in Wenger’s men that we’re backing them to cover a one-goal handicap – if they begin to find their feet we expect the star men to live up to their billing. Naturally it is a riskier ploy than simply going with the Gunners at odds against but on breaking down their opponents last term, they were often quick to kill them off, demolishing Blackburn 7-1, Tottenham 5-2, Wigan 4-0 and West Brom 3-0.
We reckon the campaign ahead could be the stickiest yet for Pulis’ men, and the questions may begin on Saturday evening.
Best of the Bets Show
- It's the biggest game in Danish football since Euro 92! Horsens v Brondy, loser down, winner stays up. Live betting available now @HeavenBet — 4 hours 14 min ago
- For the last time this season, painful analogies vaguely related to football: http://t.co/PrHqlulEMa — 10 hours 19 min ago
- Bottom of La Liga Mallorca simply must win to stand a chance of staying up. They are 2.5 @heavenbet at home to Real Betis. Visitors are 2.8. — 11 hours 10 min ago
- That's the Premier League all done, but still plenty to be decided across Europe. Anzhi are 1.6 @heavenbet to see off Lokomotiv Moscow today — 11 hours 14 min ago
- @sammydymond should I be looking to add Siena to the current top triumvirate of Burkina Faso, Brentford & Forfar then? — 11 hours 58 min ago