Pre-Match Report

Stoke City v Arsenal - Preview

13/14: Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City - Bacary Sagna

“We have some bad memories there but, as well, we have some good memories too. It is a stadium where the pitch is narrow and it is more open to the wind. So it is a bit more difficult to play. But at the end of the day, as we have shown recently, it is down to the performance on the day.”

Stoke away remains one of the trickiest games in Arsenal’s fixture list.

OK, Tony Pulis may have departed and the current side are in midst of a relegation battle but points are always eminently droppable at the Britannia Stadium. And Arsène Wenger cannot afford that.

"For me there is only the attitude of a winner or not. And a winner does on the pitch what helps his team to win."

Arsene Wenger

This trip is the first game in March, and the rest of the month looks like this: Everton (h) in the FA Cup sixth round, Bayern (a), Spurs (a), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (h).

This is no time to lose form or faith.

And, in the past, Stoke away has sapped both from Arsenal.

This side is made of stern stuff though and the 4-1 win over Sunderland last week was straightforward; a rarity given the pressure creeping into every Premier League weekend right now.

After Saturday’s trip, Arsenal will have just 10 games left and, as it stands, have put themselves into their best position to win the title for a decade. Only 2008 comes close and, by this time back then, Wenger’s side were starting to slide away after a traumatic 2-2 draw at Birmingham. This side have shown greater grit and gravitas.

Part of that can be attributed to one of few players who has heavily featured in both runs - Mathieu Flamini. The Frenchman told Arsenal Player this week how he love the “dirty jobs” in the side; the necessary no-frills, work-a-day aspect of the game. His manager disagrees with the term because he rates the contribution at a much higher level.

“I don't call those dirty jobs,” said Wenger. “I just think if you want to win, you do any job that just helps the team to win.

“For me there is only the attitude of a winner or not. And a winner does on the pitch what helps his team to win.”

Whatever the description of his chores, Flamini is certainly the team’s motivator-in-chief. He shows an overt urgency and desire that raises the standard of the side.

Team News

Arsenal: Gibbs (buttock), Monreal (doubt – foot) Ramsey (thigh), Walcott (knee), Diaby (knee)

Stoke: Odemwingie (doubt - calf), Walters (doubt – illness), Assaidi (knee), Huth (doubt – knee)

It is one of the reasons Arsenal have been able to recover from the occasional (and sometimes extreme) setback with such alacrity.

By reputation, Stoke away should be Flamini’s kind of game. However, according to Wenger, their new manager has altered the squad and playing style.

“Before, sometimes we went to Stoke with a very young team and of course it was difficult,” he said. “But let’s not forget that under Tony Pulis they qualified for the Europa League. That is never only down to the style of play, it is as well down to the quality of the players.

“They've changed under Mark Hughes. They play a more elaborate style. It is on the ground more and they have different personnel as well now. But they still can be very dangerous too.”

Stoke’s form is distinctly average - one win in 10 Premier League games and no clean sheets in 14 fixtures in all competitions. However there is every reason to suspect this fixture is still teak-tough.

It would be seen as a sizeable banana skin but for the games that follow it.

And Arsenal can ill-afford to stumble in those.

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