Exclusive Wenger quotes, classic goals, team news and a score predictor poll. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of the Stoke City match.
CRUNCH TIME IN THE RUN-IN
OP = Outfield Players
We may have made life difficult for ourselves during February and March, but like a thoroughbred reaching the final furlong, we’re coming good when it matters most in the race for a top-four place.
Our fate may be out of our hands, but after a fine run we are steadily applying the pressure at the head of the chasing pack in the hope that Liverpool or Manchester City falter.
This is crunch time and the Gunners are hitting form but, having won at Southampton – traditionally a ground where we have struggled in recent years – life does not get any easier.
A trip to Stoke City is never easy for any team, and that is especially so when you are Arsenal, the pantomime baddies at the Bet365 Stadium down the years.
Our record of one win in nine at the Potteries also does not make for encouraging reading, but Arsène Wenger is confident his team are on a roll and can carry their momentum into Saturday’s game.
“Basically, we [are in a run of] four games in 10 days, because we played last Sunday, Wednesday, now Saturday and then Tuesday [against Sunderland],” the Arsenal manager said.
“We are in a position where we know what is requested, so everybody in the squad will have to play a part in that and it’s a good opportunity for us to show that we can produce the performances needed and that we can maintain the focus on every single game.”
A FIERCE RIVALRY
On the face of it, we head to Stoke at just the right time. Mark Hughes’ side are 13th in the table, in no danger of going down and with no pretensions of achieving a European place – and on a run of just one win in their past nine matches.
In addition, they have not beaten any of the top-six at home this season – in fact they have lost four, although they were seconds away from edging past Manchester United before Wayne Rooney’s last-gasp equaliser.
But… and it’s a big but… this is Stoke v Arsenal, a game that the hosts always raise themselves for, and generally a match that we have struggled in.
When you throw into the mix that it is Stoke’s final home game of the season, and that they can potentially end our hopes of achieving a top-four finish, it is clear that it will be a major test of our credentials.
“When they play against Arsenal, I think all teams are focused,” Wenger said. “You never expect any weaknesses from them. I believe that at the moment we have just to focus on our own performance and not to expect any weakness from our opponents.
“Stoke have improved their technical level over the past two or three years. Technically they can compete with everybody, so these players on their day can be creative, they can be incisive, they can create goal chances. We know that.”
Combining physicality and the ability to play between the lines, Granit Xhaka could be central to our hopes of victory on Saturday.
|Arsenal: Cazorla (ankle), Koscielny (calf – doubt), Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring – doubt)
Stoke City: Ireland (leg), Afellay (knee)
Fresh from scoring the opening goal against Manchester United, the Switzerland international followed it up with a fine display at Southampton three days later.
Not only did Xhaka have the most touches of any Arsenal player (82), but his 71 passes were made with a success rate of 94.4 per cent – the best of any player on the pitch.
Wenger is pleased with the midfielder’s development, and feels that we are starting to see the best of him after an educational first season in English football.
“He has adapted, and become stronger and stronger throughout the season,” the manager said. “I think today you can say he is a success because he is getting stronger in every single game, and also he has a good, consistent focus. I believe this is a very important quality.
“He turns up every day in training with full commitment. He has a very good focus, every single day – which you can say about all of our midfielders. He never misses a training session and that’s certainly why he has improved throughout the season.
“When we play at home especially, and you are dominating the games, it’s important to have someone who can pass from deep areas through the lines. We looked for someone who could do that and I felt he had those specific qualities to do that.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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