Arsenal v. Stoke
So here we are, the end of a pretty anticlimactic season. I, for one, am quite happy to see the back of this campaign. It's ups and downs, mostly downs, were frustrating to watch. We've learned a great deal about our players from all the disappointment though. A possible silver lining to another trophyless season is that I think Arsene has now seen what needs to be done to take this set of players to the next level. I am sure he will go out and bring in players that will help the development of this team. A year from now, I highly doubt I will be writing a preview with such a bleak tone.
Stoke City visit the Emirates tomorrow for this final game. They dominated us physically back in November. This coupled with defensive lapses on our part caused our demise. I'm not going to lie, I was not at all happy with one or two of the challenges by the Stoke players in that match, especially the off the field slide tackle on Adebayor. Despite that, I have grown a soft spot for Stoke. I think all Arsenal fans will join me in thanking them for initializing Aston Villa's free fall. Those two quickfire goals in the last two minutes was the turning point in our battle for the last Champions League spot. Soon we had turned around what looked to be an eight point Aston Villa lead into a eight point lead of our own.
Anyways back to this match. After a admirable display away from home against the Champions, Arsene will want to sign off the season in style in front of fans. Ending on a very positive preformance might help calm some of the rabid fans down.
Wenger offered some interesting analysis of how close we are to Man United. "Take Manchester United - they won only one game against the top four," said the Frenchman.
"They lost twice against Liverpool, lost and drew against us, and they drew against Chelsea and won one.
"Where Man United made a difference was between 10th and 20th place. They made all doubles in there.
"So they are not as far as people think from the top four teams.
"They were more consistent and found their stride in the right moment of the season.
"But I believe nobody is installed indefinitely in the top four, and can say 'OK we are miles ahead'. I do not believe that at all."
He went on to say: "The game is very important. As much as it was to show a great response at Man United. We have to show our quality, finish well and start well again next season. I personally believe that this team, considering the age of the whole squad, has done fantastically well since November.
"We were unlucky in one or two circumstances but we have consistency and quality. The job is not finished with this team. In fact it starts now."
Arsenal Team News:
Adebayor will not have to face the boo brigade at the Emirates again in an Arsenal jersey. He is out with a ghost groin strain. It's very hard to see the club keeping him this summer. The only scenario that will see him stay is if we do not receive a satisfactory bid for his services. In other news, Fabianski has tweaked his right knee but he has recovered quickly enough and will be in charge of dealing with Stoke's long balls into the penalty area. Samir Nasri, however, is out with a knee injury. Rosicky, Gallas, and Eduardo are still out as well.
Player to watch: Nicklas Bendtner
Bendtner will most likely partner van Persie up front in this one. I expect a big game from him, now that Adebayor is out of the picture. He has struggled some at home this year, and he will be eager to leave a sweet taste in the mouths of the Emirates faithful.
Stoke Team News:
Stoke welcome back Henri Camara and Danny Pugh for this match. Camara wasn't able to play against Wigan last weekend and will return to lead the line for Pulis' men. Pugh will slot in at left back.
Player to watch: Ryan Shawcross
This young man has been in the press quite alot leading up to this game. Back in November he was offended by Arsene's valid post game observation about Shawcross' horror tackle on Adebayor off the field. He has been saying he wants to prove there is more to his game. There will be some sparks flying around him tomorrow.
Match Facts & Stats
Arsenal have only lost one of the last seven end of season fixtures.
Arsenal have won the last 5 home end of season fixtures.
Home and away
League (inc PL): Arsenal 36 wins, Stoke City 21, Draws 18
Prem: Arsenal 0 wins, Stoke City 1, Draws 0
at Arsenal only
League (inc PL): Arsenal 27 wins, Stoke City 5, Draws 5
Prem: Arsenal 0 wins, Stoke City 0, Draws 0
Martin Atkinson will be the head official for this match. He has managed 25 matches this season handing out 86 yellows and 6 reds. This gives him a 3.68 card per game average.
The pressure is off and Arsenal will thrive. I think it will be high scoring. 4-2 to the Arsenal.
We're done till July. We could be playing big European games early so that's something to look forward too.