The 2008/09 Premier League season, one in which the achievements of Stoke City Football Club have exceeded the expectations of all but the most indulgent of fantasists, comes to an end this Sunday. The curtain will be brought down on the campaign for Stoke away at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in a surprisingly meaningless clash, the Gunners solidly in fourth place, sure of Champions League football next season, and Stoke sitting eleventh, gloriously floating in mid-table. If we win against Arsenal, and Manchester City lose to Bolton, we will climb into the top half of the table, ahead of the Mancunians. Finishing ahead of the world’s richest club would truly be the cherry on top of a very sweet cake for Stoke, and while it’s unlikely to happen, it’s not out of the question. We have already beaten Arsenal once this season, and Bolton beat Manchester City back in November, so we can hope, and wait and see what happens.
Phil Brown and Alan Shearer can only dream of finishing in the mid-table position occupied by Stoke
While Arsenal have little to play for, as, on paper, do we, if we need any motivation to sign off for our season in style by beating Arsenal, Arsene Wenger’s comments after the last meeting of the two clubs, a 2-1 victory for Stoke at the Britannia Stadium six months ago should provide just that. After being outfought and out-thought by Stoke and Tony Pulis, the Frenchman moaned that Stoke’s players had gone out to deliberately injure his. While both unjustified and insulting, his comments are also very hypocritical. As far as I remember, if was an Arsenal player, Robin van Persie, who was sent of in the game for charging into Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen when he had the ball in his hands. Wenger, of course, did not see the incident.
Whinger Wenger was bitter in defeat the last time the two clubs met
I believe that a large part of the reason that we were victorious over Arsenal on that day was their poor tactics. Concerned that they would be unable to deal with Stoke’s physical presence, Wenger opted the play with many of his largest, strongest players, such as Abou Diaby and Alexandre Song, rather than his numerous options that offer a little more guile and finesse. His attempt to fight fire with fire was undone, as Arsenal’s supposed physical players were never even in the battle. If Arsenal had lined up with more of their best, creative players at Stoke, however, they would probably have been able to cut us open and take something from the game.
Our chances of success this weekend hinge on our ability to impose our style on the game, and inhibit Arsenal’s flowing passing game, without going quite as far as deliberately injuring their players. Rory Delap’s long throw, the weapon that brought both of our goals in the return fixture is likely to be ineffective on the vast pitch at the Emirates, so we will probably have to look for another source of goals. With Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie both on good form in attack, with three goals between them from our last two games, it seems we have goals in the side, particularly with the Gunners’ much documented defensive frailties.
Delap unleashed two devastating long throws in the return fixture
The Potters have no new injury concerns ahead of the match, though forward Mamady Sidibe, midfielder Amdy Faye and left-back Danny Higginbotham, who is reportedly being tracked by Ipswich, are all still sidelined. Senegalese holding midfielder Salif Diao, who is out of contract in the summer, could play his last game for the club, after returning from injury to appear as a substitute in last week’s win over Wigan. Stoke captain Abdoulaye Faye, who has been linked with a move to Arsenal, to bolster their feeble defence, and instantly quashed the rumours, will continue at centre-back, fresh from winning eleven separate player of the season awards, and becoming rather tearful at the presentation.
Player of the season Abdoulaye Faye will continue, while it could be farewell to his compatriot Diao
Wenger faces a selection headache with a number of notable absentees from his side. Two members of his usual first choice back four, Gael Clichy and William Gallas, will miss the game with back and knee injuries respectively, while goalkeeper Manuel Almunia is a doubt with an ankle problem. Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky is still sidelined with a hamstring injury, while adopted Croatian forward Eduardo Da Silva is ruled out after having follow up surgery on the leg that was horrifically broken over a year ago.
Realistically, I know we have little chance of winning on Sunday, but we have got the psychological edge on them, so it’s not out of the question. With our finishing position confirmed, barring a twenty goal swing with West Ham, as no higher than tenth and no lower than twelfth, it isn’t really about the result. The game provides the chance to celebrate our achievements one last time, and bring an end to a very enjoyable season, while looking forward to an equally enjoyable summer in the transfer market.
Robin van Persie v Andy Wilkinson
It’s always difficult to guess in advance the team Arsenal will field, but assuming van Persie plays, the left sided Dutch forward will come up against the fiery Stoke right-back Wilkinson. Wilkinson, having yesterday been automatically offered a new contract, after a clause in his current one was activated as a result of the 24 year old playing more than sixteen games this season, will be out to impress. Van Persie likes to go to ground, Wilkinson likes to bring people to the ground, so expect plenty of grass based action from this one.
Bacary Sagna v Matthew Etherington
Having excellently assisted Beattie’s goal against Wigan, Stoke winger Etherington should be keen to keep up his good form against the Gunners. He will have a hard time doing it though, against the man that many consider to be the best right-back in the Premier League. Etherington has become something of a get out ball for Stoke, and often with little support, it seems that his job in the team is not so much to take on full-backs, but to entice fouls out of them, allowing us to utilise our aerial strength from the resulting free-kicks. He can expect to be given little by the cool headed Sagna, who is the cousin of Stoke centre-back Ibrahima Sonko, though.
Goalkeepers: Manuel Almunia (32), Lucasz Fabianski (24), Vito Mannone (21), Wojciech Szczesny (19)
Defenders: Kolo Toure (28), Bacary Sagna (26), William Gallas (31), Gael Clichy (23), Mikael Silvestre (31), Johan Djourou (22), Kieran Gibbs (19), Gavin Hoyte (18), Tom Cruise (18), Paul Rodgers (19), Kerrea Gilbert (22), Abou Ogogo (19)
Midfielders: Cesc Fabregas (22), Andrey Arshavin (27), Samir Nasri (21), Abou Diaby (23), Denilson (21), Alexandre Song (22), Emmanuel Eboue (25), Theo Walcott (20), Tomas Rosicky (28), Aaron Ramsey (18), Jack Wilshere (17), Fran Merida (19), Mark Randall (19), Amaury Bischoff (22), Francis Coquelin (18), Nacer Barazite (18), James Dunne (19), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (18), Sanchez Watt (18), Emmanuel Frimpong (17)
Forwards:Emmanuel Adebayor (25), Nicklas Bendtner (21), Robin van Persie (25), Eduardo Da Silva (26), Carlos Vela (20), Rui Fonte (19)
Star Man: Andrey Arshavin
Since joining the Gunners from Zenit St. Petersburg in February, Russian international playmaker Arshavin has made an immediate impact, adding pace, passing ability, and most importantly finishing ability to the North London club’s midfield, already scoring six times in eleven league starts for the club, including an incredible four goals against Liverpool at Anfield. Zenit were the 27 year old’s only previous club, Arshavin enjoying nine fruitful years there, playing a total of 238 league games for the club, scoring 52 goals. He also has 43 full Russian caps, scoring 15 times for his country, and was one of the players of the tournament at Russia finished third in last summer’s European Championships in Austria and Switzerland.
Comparative Club Stats: Arsenal Stoke
League Position: 4th 11th
Points: 69 45
Goals Scored: 109 44
Goals Conceded: 53 58
Home Record (W,D,L): 21,6,4 12,5,5
Away Record (W,D,L): 11,10,8 3,4,13
Clean Sheets: 28 12
Failed to Score: 14 13
Form: DLLWLW WWLLWD
Top Scorer: Van Persie (18) Fuller (10)
Ricardo Fuller heads Stoke into the lead in the return fixture
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