Arsenal will be targeting their first home goals of the season as well a first home victory as they face a winless Stoke City, who have never emerged with any points from their seven previous Premier League trips to the Emirates Stadium.
Despite a succession of strong away results, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger will be concerned – as well as mystified – by the fact his team have now failed to score in five of their last six home matches. This is due mainly to an uncharacteristic lack of fluency in the final third and a succession of well-organised opponents, but it has added extra weight to the argument that the club is still one quality striker short of having a serious title-winning chance.
It was an incorrect offside call that frustrated them in the most recent North London outing against Liverpool as Aaron Ramsey was denied a goal, but in truth victory that night would have papered over the cracks of what was a poor performance. Arsenal were far from thrilling a week later as they struggled to penetrate the toothless 10 men of Newcastle United, but got the win they needed thanks to a fortunate deflection. Clearly there are higher levels to reach.
Stoke are not a side many associate with poor home form, but for the second season in a row they begin with two defeats, while they are kept off the bottom of the table by two away draws, so will be determined to rouse themselves for this one. As emphasised by their previous match at home to West Bromwich Albion, it will be important to keep their discipline, particularly as their squad now runs deep and they have individuals within the side that can cause any team problems.
That defeat at the hands of former boss Tony Pulis was entirely self-inflicted, with Ibrahim Afellay and Charlie Adam both guilty of losing their cool and giving his teammates an uphill struggle. Manager Mark Hughes’ misguidedly foolish post-match complaints at both dismissals did little to increase sympathy towards the Potters, who did battle well with only nine men, but after falling short will very keen to earn their first victory as soon as possible.
Per Mertesacker is poised to be reunited with Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the Arsenal defence after illness. Tomas Rosicky, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere remain injured.
The visitors are hit by problems, which are only exacerbated by the three-match bans Afellay and Adam are now serving. Mame Biram Diouf, Marko Arnautovic and Glen Johnson are all injury doubts, while Peter Odemwingie is definitely out.
Last Meeting: There was only one team in it back in January as Arsenal strolled to a 3-0 success over sluggish Stoke. Laurent Koscielny got things going early on with a powerful header. Alexis Sanchez continued his fine debut season in English football by scoring the other two; first firing home a low shot after linking up with Tomas Rosicky, and then beating Asmir Begovic with a near-post free-kick.
Played for both – Jermaine Pennant: Signed from Notts County as a promising teenager, Pennant made his Arsenal debut in 1999 and made a total of 12 league appearances before leaving in 2003. All three of his goals came in a 6-1 success over Southampton. He moved to Stoke in 2010 after an initial loan spell, and went on to score four goals in 65 outings over the course of four years.