Much has been made of Arsenal’s inability to win the big games, and how it may be the undoing of their title challenge. So after Monday night’s defeat at Old Trafford, and with the boxing day visit of Chelsea to come, should Arsenal be looking towards the Carling Cup as their only hope of silverware?
Though clashes between the top sides are billed as must win six pointers, the reality is much different. With the unpredictability of this years Premier League the champions will probably be the team that wins the games they’re expected to win. If Arsenal had beaten West Brom and Newcastle at the Emirates earlier in the season they would still be the frontrunners.
With that in mind let’s look ahead to Saturday’s visit of Stoke City, a game that could see Arsenal return to the summit with Man Utd not playing Chelsea until Sunday. Much focus has been put on the fact that it’s the first meeting of the two sides since the unfortunate Ramsey injury, and it has led Arsene Wenger to call for a line to be drawn under the incident, “What happened in the past, happened in the past. I don’t think there’s any need to add fuel to it, and just focus on playing as we do and respect our opponents.”
Wojciech Szczesny is expected to start in goal for Arsenal with Lukasz Fabianski unlikely to recover from the hip injury that ruled him out of the trip to Old Trafford. The 19 year old looked unfazed by the occasion on Monday but will have a different look to deal with when Tony Pullis brings his physical brand of football to North London. Note the use of the word physical, not aggressive, not dirty. Pullis was right when he pointed out his teams superior disciplinary record this season. Arsenal currently hold the third worst in the division with 32 yellows and 4 red cards compared with Stoke’s 30 yellows and 1 red.
Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie are both in contention for starts after their substitute appearances against United, but Wenger is expected to stick with the team that started that game. Pullis has an almost full complement of players to choose from, with Mamady Sidibe the only absentee. The visitors will be looking for their first win since the 3-0 victory at the Hawthornes, and will need Kenwyne Jones (4 league goals) and Matthew Etherington (3 league goals) to be on top form if they are to get it this weekend.