By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger will go back to basics for the trip to Stoke on Saturday.
After shipping two late goals to allow Tottenham a 4-4 draw on Wednesday, Arsenal have been under fire from many quarters this week. And that is unlikely to change at the Britannia Stadium at the weekend.
Tony Pulis has assembled a rough, tough side who have been good enough to take nine points out of 15 at home this season. They also have a major weapon in Rory Delap’s missile-like throws.
But then Arsenal have been supplying their critics with ammunition this week. Allowing Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon to score in the closing minutes on Wednesday has allowed the media to rake over the coals of Arsenal’s title bid when in fact they are still very much in the hunt. You only have to think back 12 months when Wenger’s side themselves were flying high at the top.
The decisive point in the season is nearly always around March and April not now. But while a title cannot be won in November, it can be lost during that period. That is why Wenger will concentrate on the strengths of his side for the trip to the Potteries.
“I want to win the next game,” he told Arsenal.com. “It is as simple as that.
“You cannot plan to win in three games and not look at the next one. The best chance we have is to just win the next one because that’s where you get confidence.
“Of course we are all upset but we focus on what we do well because that will allow us to continue to be strong in the League. At the same time we need to correct what we don’t do so well.”
Arsenal will be without William Gallas (hamstring) for the trip and possibly Emmanuel Eboue. The Ivorian was set for tests on his knee on Friday.
It seems safe to assume Kolo Toure will replace the captain and Arsenal will need his experience. Central defence is a key area against Stoke because of Delap’s throw-ins.
The Irishman has the ability to arrow in a fast, flat ball into the heart of the area from either side of the pitch. Stoke have used the ploy at every opportunity this term. It has brought Delap three assists including one for Ricardo Gardner’s winner against Sunderland on Wednesday night.
Wenger is not too concerned by the tactic and, somewhat surprisingly given his aesthetic footballing principles, the Frenchman would even employ it himself if one of his side had that ability.
“Why not?” he asked. “If you have a player who can do that, it is normal.
“[But we will counter it by] attacking the ball in the air and by not making too much of a fuss of it. They score one goal every one or two months and it is not like a penalty, it is a throw-in.
“I think you shouldn’t be obsessed by that, just try to dominate the game and score goals yourself.
“We know that they are very dangerous on set-pieces and those long throws especially. What is most important is that we have the ball and we put them under pressure.
“Stoke are doing OK so far,” Wenger concluded. “The teams that have come up prepare well now and most of them are doing very well.
“But this is a real test and we want to pass it.”Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 30 Oct 2008