Arsenal vs. Stoke City: Match Preview

Hopefully we won't see the "question the referee" face much - Michael Regan

Arsenal go up north to the Potteries for a visit. Hopefully they come back undamaged.

Arsenal vs. Stoke City
English Premier League
Saturday, March 1, 2014 7AM PT/10AM ET/ 3PM BT
Britannia Stadium, Stoke-On-Trent
League Form: ARS WDWLDW | STK LLWDDL
TV: Premier League Extra Time
Stoke City's SBN presence: Nobody in Stoke can make their computers work because throwing rocks at computers breaks the screen

After that rarest of things for a top-flight club - a whole week between matches, with two days off for the players thrown in for good measure despite journalists knowing better than Arsene Wenger how to properly manage squad fitness - Arsenal roll up their sleeves, update their immunizations, leave their next-of-kin information with the local constabulary, and head to Stoke for a visit to the home of the English version of the Gas House Gorillas.

It'd be so easy here to just write a variation on the theme "Ryan Shawcross", "Aaron Ramsey", "Not that kind of player" and so on, but Stoke are so much more - or less - than that one incident, I'm not even going to bother.  Instead, I'll start by listing a few things that are more pleasant than watching Stoke play what they like to call "football":

1.  An IRS audit
2.  Anesthetic-free oral surgery
3.  Sliding naked down a rusty cheese grater
4.  95% of all industrial accidents in America
5.  Drinking the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear reactor cleanup effort

I know, some things on that list are slight exaggerations - IRS audits aren't that bad - but you get the drift.  There are teams that are fun to play, teams that are neutral to play, and there's Stoke.  They don't so much play football as try to beat you over the head with it; it's like they discovered that they have no appreciable skill at the game, so instead they just run around like bumper cars with elbows, thugging their way to the occasional point and mid-table safety every year.

Stoke do lead the league in one thing, though - yellow cards given. Surprise!  What I can't decide is whether Stoke is the San Jose Earthquakes of the Premier League or whether San Jose is the Stoke City of MLS, but they're basically the same team.

Arsenal, of course, are their usual injury-riddled selves entering this match, but the good news is that Thomas Vermaelen will most likely be back in the starting lineup, which is timely given the absence of both Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal.  Ramsey's out with a "thigh problem", but Mesut Özil will probably be back after having last weekend off.

Given how well all cylinders fired last weekend for Arsenal, I would expect much the same tomorrow - Stoke will come out with brass knuckles blazing, ready to pound Arsenal into submission, but if Arsenal stick to their game they should hopefully get maximum points out of this one - and at the very least, we know for a fact they'll be done with Stoke for another season.
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