With every passing day Mark Hughes can afford the smile that should be creeping onto his facial features to grow a little wider. For the Welshman is doing, with some early success, what his compatriot Tony Pulis tried and failed to achieve before him.
Serial cap-endorser Pulis, in his seventh season at the Britannia, became stuck between his tried and trusted physicality and directness, and implementing a more possession-based style.
By the time he took a well-needed break from management at the beginning of last summer he had won just four times since December 2nd and had given Stoke an identity crisis.
Hughes arrived with clear intentions to help the red-and-white-striped mob find themselves again, and it’s working.
They travel to the Emirates as lengthy 8/1 shots to win, but as a side making encouraging strides away from the Pulis era.
Their physicality remains – they are committing the sixth most fouls in the league – but that is to be expected when Hughes’ brutal Blackburn side is recalled. They have, however, upped their successful pass percentage from 70 per cent last term to 79 per cent so far in this campaign.
They are also playing the third least long balls in the division and have picked up some encouraging results under their new boss already.
Stoke may have only taken a point from games against two of the current top four (Liverpool and Man City) but held them to a combined one goal and were denied a late draw with the Reds by Simon Mignolet’s penalty save.
They’ve managed to dispatch Crystal Palace and West Ham to collect six points in their other games and will be encouraged by their recent record with Arsenal.
The Gunners only netted once against the Potters last season and have been held to a draw in two of their last three battles with the former long ball specialists, making another stalemate at 7/2 the way forward.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.