BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
Venue: Britannia Stadium Date: Sunday, 26 August KO 13:30 GMT
Winger Jermaine Pennant is a slight injury doubt for Stoke boss Tony Pulis.
Wilson Palacios or Rory Delap could replace him, while midfielder Dean Whitehead serves a one-match ban after being sent off against Reading.
Lukas Podolski may drop to the left of a three-man attack to give Frenchman Olivier Giroud his first Arsenal start, coming in to replace Gervinho.
Laurent Koscielny has not yet recovered from a calf problem, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to the squad.
This is “Signpost Sunday” for Arsenal. This acid test will point the way towards the sort of campaign they will have. Last season they were out of the title race by the end of August, as defeats against Liverpool and Manchester United followed an opening day 0-0 draw at Newcastle.
After last weekend’s goalless flop against Sunderland, they can’t afford another sub-standard display to undermine their early season plans.
There has been too much talk about Robin Van Persie. His departure had become inevitable. There is no point dwelling on it. Lucas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were brought in to soften the blow. The German may have been living off the back of his World Cup 2006 Young Player of the Tournament award for too long, but he has quality. The Frenchman is no Thierry Henry. But his 25 goals last season took Montpellier to their first ever title. He’ll settle better the sooner he scores.
With cash in the coffers, Arsene Wenger’s spending may not be over. His team will still play attractively and is capable of finishing in the top four if they have enough “bottle” to survive tests like this.
Wenger’s dislike of all things Stoke is well chronicled. Tony Pulis relishes it, even though he wouldn’t have condoned some of the more vitriolic and abusive chanting directed at the Arsenal boss in last season’s 1-1 draw, when Peter Crouch netted against his old north London rivals.
Arsenal will have to “man-up” against Stoke’s aerial bombardment. If they do that then they have enough craft to win against a side that has found victories hard to come by. It’s now seven Premier League games without a win for Stoke – their most barren run in nearly four years.
But they’ll work their way through that spell. Etherington, Walters, Whelan and Crouch are all players I admire. There is a great work ethic about the club. The coaching staff is full of honest football men. It is a good club.
Arsenal will have more flair and possession but I suspect they’ll have to settle for a draw, and how the Stoke fans will love that as their club continues to punch above its weight.
Of four Premier League matches between the teams at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke have the edge (W2, D1, L1).
Arsenal have won all four of the Premier League matches between the teams at the Emirates Stadium.
In 95 matches between the two clubs in all competitions, Arsenal have won 50 of them.
The Potters have not won in their last seven Premier League matches – their longest run without a win since Nov 2008-Jan 2009, when they had a club Premier League-record run of nine matches without a win.
All of Stoke’s past five matches (including pre-season friendlies) have ended 1-1.
Dean Whitehead’s red card was Stoke’s 15th since their debut in the Premier League in 2008/09. Only Sunderland (19), Man City (16) and Bolton (16) have more over the same period.
Arsenal have failed to win in their last four Premier League home matches; they last went four without victory in between April and August 1995.
Last week’s stalemate with Sunderland was their second consecuitve goalless draw on the opening day of the season.
Including last season, they have only won just one of their past six Premier League matches.
By Jonathan Pearce