By Chris Harris
“Sometimes it is good to give them a taste first and sometimes it is good to throw them straight in.” - Arsène Wenger on new signings
The week at Arsenal can be summed up neatly: two points dropped, one player gained.
Mohamed Elneny’s arrival was confirmed on Thursday and he will immediately bolster a midfield that has been depleted by injuries this season. But Arsenal were denied a perfect week by a last-minute goal the previous night.
Joe Allen joined Martin Skrtel, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun on the list of Liverpool players who have snatched last-gasp equalisers against the Gunners in recent years. Revenge perhaps for the most famous last-minute goal of all - Michael Thomas’ title clincher in 1989.
Allen’s strike hurt that little bit more because it came moments after Manchester City had been held to a draw by Everton. Arsenal were within a whisker of a five-point lead over City but that gap remains at three points. Leicester City are even closer, of course, beating Tottenham to trail Arsène Wenger’s side on goal difference.
“When you are 3-2 up and concede in the last minute it looks always like two points dropped because you anticipate that you will take three points,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “The regret of the night for me was the fact at 3-2 we had two or three opportunities where we did not do what the game required.
|Stoke City: Shaqiri (hamstring), Cameron (foot - doubt), Muniesa (hamstring - doubt), Ireland (hamstring)
Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee), Coquelin (knee), Cazorla (knee), Alexis (hamstring), Ospina (groin)
“I believe what should remain is the quality of our performance and the quality of our team spirit. The goals are the goals and we know we can improve on what happened to us. We know that we can maintain and improve the quality of our team performance. To go there and force Liverpool to fight until the last second of the game is a positive result.
“I remember saying two months ago that the team that maintains consistency in their results and performances will certainly have a good chance to [win the league]. After the games, when you think you have seen it all now and you think there won’t be as many surprising results in the next set of games, it happens again.
“Week after week, people are surprised by the results. That makes the consistency even more important and I believe the team performance and the attitude is even more important.”
That attitude will be tested again at Stoke City on Sunday - where Chelsea and both Manchester sides have come a cropper this season.
ONE TO WATCH
All eyes will be on Elneny if he makes his debut.
‘Stoke away’ might not be the baptism of fire it once was - the Potters now have bags of flair to accompany their traditional muscle - but Wenger may follow the example he set with Robert Pires by giving his new signing an eye-opening watching brief from the bench.
“Sometimes it is good to give them a taste first and sometimes it is good to throw them straight in,” he said. “I remember throwing Edu straight in and he suffered at the start to adapt to that sort of pace. It can take some time. I am convinced because [Elneny] is naturally mobile that he can adapt quickly.
“He is player who has a well-balanced game,” added Wenger. “He defends well and attacks well and is disciplined. He is very mobile.
“He could be in the squad, I have a bit more time to make the decision because he has been out of games since the beginning of December so we have to see how fit he is to go into games with the intensity we have in England.”
Either way, Wenger suddenly has options in central positions - and that means he can give a rest to those who need one.
“We are short in this department because we have long-term injuries,” he said. “We have been lucky over December so let’s not push our luck too far because any injury now and we are very, very short. That is why I think it was a needed decision [to buy].”
Elneny could be joined in the squad by Alexis, rated by Wenger as “a 60:40 chance” to make his first appearance since November 29. Tomas Rosicky will not be considered for Sunday as he continues to build up his fitness.
Arsenal found it hard to pick up points at the Britannia when Stoke were a mid-table team. Their record stands at one win in the last seven visits.
|Arsenal have won just one of their seven Premier League games at the Britannia Stadium against Arsenal (W4 D2 L1) (D2 L4)
Peter Crouch has scored eight goals against the Gunners, the joint-most against any opponent in his Premier League career along with Blackburn Rovers.
Jonathan Walters has scored in three of his five Premier League appearances against Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium
So in theory it should be even tougher on Sunday against an upwardly-mobile Potters side that have added the craft of Bojan, Ibrahim Afellay and Xherdan Shaqiri to their familiar graft - although Shaqiri has been ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Eleven of the 14 goals Stoke have scored at home against Arsenal in the Premier League came in the first half, including three last season. That will serve as a warning for Arsenal not to get caught cold.
“Last season we had a very bad start and I think we have more experience now and we are more stable defensively,” said Wenger. “We have a good opportunity to show that.
“Stoke have improved their creative potential and we will want a really strong defensive display from our side because players like Arnautovic, Afellay and Bojan are all very creative players.
“Stoke is a team that is in progress,” added Wenger. “We have had difficulty there in the past. When you look at the results year by year we are not the only ones to have had difficulties.
“They produce top-quality performances against Manchester City and Manchester United and that shows it is a big chance for everybody.
“They have a strong record against us at home and they will have to maintain it but for us it is a good challenge to prove that we have made a step forward and can change that record.”