Arsenal welcome Stoke City to the Emirates on Saturday for a Premier League encounter that could see the Gunners return to the top of the table for a bit, or more, depending on the results of Sunday's Chelsea-Manchester United clash.
Much has been made of Ryan Shawcross' appearance this weekend at the Emirates, about whether or not he will be harassed by supporters (thankfully, he has bodyguards). But the fact remains that Arsenal must look to win this match and put their struggles against Manchester United behind them, for their own sake. As loathe as one might be to analyze mental states via body language, Arsenal did not look good on the pitch for whatever reason at Old Trafford, and a return of the free-flowing, high-tempo team on Saturday would do everybody a bit of good.
The Arsenal injury list has not changed too much; Manuel Almunia is out with an ankle problem, Lukasz Fabianski is a doubt with his groin/hip issue (those are in vaguely the same area, right?), Abou Diaby is still out (although back in training), Kieran Gibbs is still out, Thomas Vermaelen is still a ways away, and Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie seem ready to go.
Stoke, of course, have a bit of a reputation with many Arsenal supporters. The Ryan Shawcross incident, which hopefully will not be a historical factor tomorrow, is one thing, but there is also the FA Cup defeat, there are Rory Delap's toweled off long throws...safe to say, amongst Arsenalistas, Stoke aren't the favorite opponent. That being said, one hopes that the match tomorrow is just a normal, everyday football match--one that Arsenal wins, but normal nonetheless. If there's one thing Arsenal could use a bit of right now, it's normalcy.
The Gunners' defensive back four actually fared pretty well against Manchester United's direct play on Monday, and Stoke are nothing if not direct, so hopefully they can put together another solid performance. Irish forward Jonathan Walters is a slight doubt with a virus, but the rest of Stoke's XI are ready to go, Shawcross, Ricardo Fuller, Jermaine Pennant, Delap, et al.
Possible Arsenal lineup:
Sagna Squillaci Djourou Clichy
Nasri van Persie Arshavin
One might not be surprised to see Arshavin rested, and Marouane Chamakh has played a lot recently and may need a rest as well. Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner need games, and
both could possibly start up front [Ed. note: Bendtner's due to be a dad, so he probably won't be available]. Denilson and Tomas Rosicky linger on the bench as options as well.