Stoke Focus – Huddlestone just the tonic as Arsenal grudge match approaches

With last weekend’s draw at Reading becoming more underwhelming as the week progressed, Stoke manager Tony Pulis may finally have some promising transfer news. It has been a quiet summer thus far for the Potters, so news that Tom Huddlestone is set to join the club on loan from Tottenham Hotspur should have supporters excited.

Having endured a frustrating window with financial hands tied by Chairman Peter Coates leading to several failed signing attempts, as well as public moves to bring in Michael Owen stalling for several weeks, the expected signing of Huddlestone will provide the Britannia with a timely boost ahead of Sunday’s match with long-time rivals Arsenal.

There have been fears, as previous focus pieces on Stoke have alluded to, of a lack of guile and an ability to keep possession in Stoke’s midfield potentially undermining their campaign. The Reading game only heightened such fears as Pulis’ men found themselves dominated, chasing the ball for long periods. Arsenal may have begun their season disappointingly but their mastery of possession, particularly through Santi Cazorla, may well put the Potters in for a difficult afternoon.

If he can stay fit, Huddlestone may well breathe new life into what was becoming a rather staid Stoke central midfield. Not only does he bring the physicality that will always be key to Stoke’s style under Pulis, but he also offers an ability to create and retain possession. Huddlestone may have endured an injury plagued two years at Spurs but many will remember the way he burst onto the scene with superb long range passing, an exquisite touch and balance as well as an awareness of the game around him that brought him three England caps and a place in the initial 2010 World Cup squad. Additionally, for a side lacking goals from midfield, Huddlestone provides a thunderbolt of a shot, of which Arsenal themselves have been on the receiving end.

The signing of the 25-year-old does not come without risks. Aside from the injuries that restricted him to just two appearances for Spurs last season, Huddlestone has often appeared to struggle with his weight. A lack of mobility appears to hinder him from reaching the top level that his other talents merit. With Pulis preferring a midfield two, Huddlestone’s mobility will likely be tested. One expects that anything less than 100% effort from Huddlestone to keep in shape at his new club will not be tolerated. Pulis will surely be canny enough to base his midfield around Huddlestone’s talents.

Perhaps he could be the signing that finally brings the best out of Wilson Palacios, a major disappointment since his move up north from Spurs last season. Pulis will be well aware that Palacios and Huddlestone made up the base of Spurs’ midfield as they obtained fourth place in the Premier League in 2009-10, with the former providing the legs for the latter’s artistry. The manager will be hoping for the pair to again combine their talents successfully to drive Stoke’s midfield in this campaign.

Sunday sees Stoke’s first home game of the season. With the clash of styles with Arsenal and with the Huddlestone news behind them, the atmosphere should be red-hot.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke v Arsenal

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