Stoke is the visitor to the Grove tonight and this is the rearranged fixture from the one that was cancelled due to snow on the 18th of December last year. Pretty much everything that needs to be said has been said there.
Strangely enough, the defence for tonight will pretty much be the same as the one I mentioned in the the first preview. Injury to Laurent Koscielny has put paid to Arsene Wenger’s hope of parading the best centreback combination that has served him well this season. Perhaps the taller Sebastien Squillaci will show his worth in this game as we lay in wait of the expected aerial bombardment.
The most in form striker in all of England is also out. Robin Van Persie misses out despite having a whole 7 days to recover since the Barcelona game. It is disappointing to be without him as he brings so much to the table. His intelligent runs and his ability to bring others into the game cannot be found in his expected replacement.
Nicklas Bendtner or Marouane Chamakh is expected to lead the line tonight and I have a feeling Wenger will go for the former. The Dane is more used to the rough house tactics of Stoke and given his better form, is likely to far better than the Moroccan. As the Carling Cup final nears, there is hardly a better opportunity for Bendtner to show that he merits a place on the pitch rather than the bench at Wembley. Having played most of our games in the Carling Cup, he would feel hard done by not to start on Sunday. This game will be his audition for the final.
This is how I expect us to line-up;
Apart from the 2 aforementioned forced changes, this is as good a side that Arsenal have this season. There’s enough ingenuity and creativity in the side that can cut open Stoke. Obviously the best 3 candidates to do so are Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri. When there are more than 1 playmaker in the side, it is always harder for the opponent to choose the player to mark.
I know and I’m sure the players realise as well, that there is a cup final to be played on Sunday. But, much like Wenger, they should look no further than this game. Reasons are simple. It’s because we are only 4 points off the top. With Manchester United playing in an European fixture at the same time, this is our chance to get 3 points on the board and put some pressure on them. Anyone can injured in any situation. There’s no point in being overly cautious just to ensure that they get a run out at Wembley. There should no foot off the pedal.
Something else needs to be in the consideration of the players. That the opponent is Stoke. The very team that cost us one of the most talented rising midfielders in the world. We lost Aaron Ramsey for over now because of this team. The youngster was robbed of precious game time because some cap-wearing manager instructed his players to get in our faces. A manager who employs the ball boys in Britannia Stadium to carry towels during the game. A manager who uses a javelin thrower as a player.
We should be motivated because the same manager claim that the perpetrator of the horrific tackle is the real victim and not Ramsey. A picture of Ramsey’s leg hanging from a weird angle, put in the Arsenal dressing room would do more motivation than anything Wenger can say. Pictures paint a thousand words. The crowd will get behind the team tonight and we all want a bashing of Stoke.
Here’s to a well deserved spanking of Stoke. Talk to you tomorrow.