Arsenal finished up their tour in Asia with a match against Hangzhou Greentown. It was the first opportunity for Arsenal fans to see them back in action after a two month layoff. The first goal for this tour was obviously to get the players match fit for the start of the season, considering that Arsenal must start the season without any hiccups. While conducting their regular practice sessions the squad got a chance to meet with some of the fans and also tour both cities, something which they haven’t been able to do at past training camps in Austria. This was an extremely good opportunity for the club to see the support that they have during the year.


It was definitely a new and exciting opportunity for Arsenal fans in Malaysia and China as they were able to see many of the Arsenal stars that they can usually only watch on TV. The club had set up many different events for some player/fan interactions. I am sure that for most of these fans it was a once in a life time opportunity to be able to meet many of the players and to actually be able to see Arsenal play live at the stadium. The fans could be seen everywhere Arsenal went, and I for one was extremely surprised with the fan support received in both Malaysia and China.  The football culture, and support for the club seemed to be very similar to that in England.

Arsenal for the first time in many years are going on a pre-season tour purely for commercial benefits. This year sees them visit Malaysia and China for two pre-season friendlies. The last few years have seen the team go on quiet, yet effective pre-season training and friendlies in Austria and Hungary among others. But with football becoming more and more of a commercial battle between the top teams, Arsenal have been forced to buck their own trend and join the others in utilizing the pre-season for not only increasing the fitness of the players but also increasing its commercial value over the world.

Asia for long had been an untapped market for English clubs. Being from Asia myself, I know how crazy my city would become if any team from Europe was to visit. While this is a good opportunity for Arsenal, it will result in the decrease of local fans attending said matches. It was reported by someone in the AST the other day that only 25 or so season ticket holders are making the trip to the far east to watch the team. While the rest can catch these matches online or on TV somewhere it will definitely disappoint fans in England no doubt.

Arsenal striker Carlos Vela will play for Arsenal next season according to his agent Eduardo Hernandez. It comes as a surprise to me as I expected Vela to be included in the cull by manager Arsene Wenger in a bid to freshen up his squad having gone trophy-less for six seasons.

A product of Guadalajara youth set-up, Vela already is an experienced senior Mexican International with 35 caps to his name at the tender age of 22. For one reason or another, he hasn't translated his success on the International stage to the broader level of club football.

One of the reasons might be his early exit from Guadalajara before establishing himself in the Mexican domestic league. Since joining Arsenal in 2005, he has plied his trade mostly in Spain with loan spells at Salamanca and Osasuna.
However, at Arsenal he has failed to nail down a regular place in the starting 11 so far. Talent has never been in doubt, but his application and temperament are questionable. He looks like a player who's only good enough to conjure magic in cameo appearances.

Officials from the club have been fairly quiet since the close season. Most fans will hope that this is because the club are busy assessing what went wrong last season and are planning signings and strategies to correct the disappointments the fans experienced post-Carling Cup final. Gazidis had the daunting task of facing the Supporters’ Trust.

Ticket price increases

Ticket price rises were met with dismay amongst  fans especially with the lack of silverware over recent seasons. One supporter claimed that having a season ticket at Arsenal is more expensive than having children. Gazidis responded by saying that this is only the second rise in the last six years and that Arsenal’s utility bills have risen by 100%.

Verdict: Whilst on a business level it is justified, the fans don’t quite see it that way. This seems to be a problem for most fans that the club is treated more like a business rather than a sports club. Fans want to see trophies so when there isn’t any questions are going to be asked. However, I’m sure if the club won some silverware or saw some big signings from their direct input to the club, pressures would ease.

StokeIn a Premier League season consistent only in its unpredictability, where once commentators would say that the title was still “mathematically possible”, now we should say that, for Arsenal, the title remains an actual, if slight, possibility. This Sunday’s game at Stoke is perfectly scheduled for the Gunners, ending just before Man Utd and Chelsea kick off. A win at the Britannia would put Arsenal level on point with Chelsea, and only three behind Man Utd.

With every game feeling like a cup final at this stage of the season, most of all this is an opportunity to develop the winning mentality that has been absent in the closing stages of this campaign. Stoke City, though with a real cup final of their own to play next weekend, will nonetheless doubtless provide the sort of doughty opposition that has troubled Arsenal in recent years. The game also sees a rerun of last year’s heated fixture, memorable for Aaron Ramsey’s broken leg, and a great Arsenal comeback that led to a 3-1 win.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics


Played 88, Arsenal – 49, Stoke – 21, Draws 18

Arsenal have won their last 4 matches against Stoke. Last year’s 3-1 win at the Britannia was their first in 5 attempts in the Potteries.

Last meeting: Arsenal 1-0 Stoke (Squillaci, 8), February 2011


Stoke: DLDWD

Arsenal: WDDLW

Arsenal have the best away record in the league, with 30 points collected on their travels, and need just three more goals away from home to beat their record of 38 away goals in a season (2002-3).

Arsenal’s team that beat Man Utd last week was the youngest to play in the Premier League this season, with an average age of 23 years and 284 days.

Stoke are looking to secure their first top-ten finish in 36 years.

The set piece: 50% of Stoke’s goals this season have come from set pieces and throw-ins, whilst Arsenal have conceded 56% of their goals from set pieces.

Latest Team News

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, who missed the Man Utd match last Sunday, remains a major doubt. Samir Nasri is doubtful with a hamstring strain.

Thomas Vermaelen, out since August, will have a fitness test before the game and has a chance of making his comeback in place of Johan Djourou, who injured his ankle in the last game.

Matty Etherington is still out for Stoke, who will keep Asmir Begovic in goal.


Like at the Emirates in February, Stoke will be happy to defend deep and allow Arsenal to dominate possession. Though ostensibly lining up in a 4-4-2, they will ask Jon Walters to help out defensively in midfield, leaving Kenwyne Jones as the sole out-ball up the pitch. Going forward, they will rely on Jermaine Pennant to whip in crosses from the right hand side, and of course on free-kicks, corners, and Rory Delap’s long throws.

Arsenal, for their part, look to play their usual short passing game in the midfield, and should aim to counteract Stoke’s defensive outlook with fast-paced, direct passing in attack and high pressing when not in possession. In the potential absence of Fabregas, Arsenal will have to play the ball wide to Walcott and Nasri more often, asking Robin van Persie to get on the end of crosses. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere will take it in turns to raid forward, with Alex Song left to concentrate his attention on the midfield battle with Glenn Whelan and Dean Whitehead.

Key Players

Aaron Ramsey – back at the scene of his horrific injury last season, Ramsey will have to contend with his painful memories, as well as a potentially hostile reception from Stoke fans and players. A mature young man and excellent player, whose service Arsenal have sorely missed this season, his greater eye for goal means that, of all the midfield players, his performance could be the most decisive.

Wojciech Szczesny – one of the great success stories of Arsenal’s season, the goalkeeper will be crucial in dealing with the expected aerial bombardment, and in organizing the defence to deal with the peculiar threat of Delap’s long throws. Brave and confident, Szczesny must transmit his decisiveness to the less certain defenders in front of him.

Kenwyne Jones – against Arsenal, the tried and tested formula is to launch the ball up to your big target man. It is to be expected that Stoke will be no different, and Jones, who possesses all of the physical attributes of a world class striker, if not the consistency and mental strength, will be aiming to give Arsenal’s defence a torrid afternoon.

Referee – Mark Halsey

Halsey will have an important role to play, given Stoke’s reliance on set pieces, and the potentially heated atmosphere at the scene of Ramsey’s injury last season.  A referee who is universally admired (even by Jose Mourinho!) for returning to the game after his treatment for cancer, Halsey will have to block out the appeals from the always-loud Stoke support. Expect the tackles to fly, and for the referee, who has by far the lowest cards-per-game ratio in the league this season (of those who have refereed at least 10 games), to have to go to his pocket if things boil over.

Possible Line-ups

Stoke City (4-4-2): Begovic; Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson; Pennant, Whelan, Delap, Whitehead; Walters, Jones.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Ramsey; Wilshere, Walcott, Nasri; Van Persie