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By Fab4.

Arsenal's Sol Campbell

Back to the Britannia we go for what is arguably Arsenal’s toughest remaining fixture this season. Stoke City seem to know how to play Arsenal and it’s been effective so far. Two Rory Delap throw-ins helped Stoke to a 2-1 victory last season, and he was at it again this year in the FA Cup with a fairly strong Arsenal side losing 3-1 on this occasion. Two defeats from Arsenal’s last two visits, a third loss and the Premier League is gone for another season.

It’a no secret Arsenal don’t particularly like playing Stoke away. But why would they? Eleven big strong men playing in-your-face, physical, long-ball football with 28,000 vocal fans cheering them on, who would enjoy that? It seems not many teams, as Stoke have a great home record this year and currently sit a very respectable 11th in the Premier League table.

Any other season i would see a draw as a decent result at the Britannia Stadium but as things stand in our chase to catch Chelsea, victory is essential. Anything but a victory combining with a Chelsea win over Man City and we can forget the title for another year. With Chelsea playing at Stamford Bridge and City without Adebayor i predict a home win so we need three points to stay in touch with the leaders.

Team news

Arsenal’s task has not been made any easier due to the usual injuries problems. Arsene Wenger confirming Gallas, Diaby and Arshavin would all miss the clash but Eduardo may return.

“Gallas (calf), Diaby (knee) and Arshavin (hamstring) are all out but Eduardo joins in training tomorrow [Friday] and we will decide after training,” said the manager at his pre-match press conference.

I hope Sol Campbell comes in for Gallas as he is a big beast who can deal with Sidibe, well better than Silvestre can anyway. I know Campbell got caught out in the FA Cup match, but he has a couple more weeks behind him now and is much fitter so i am confident Campbell will impress if he gets the nod.

Losing a player of Arshavin’s quality is never a good thing, but if he had to miss any game in a season Stoke away would be right up there. It won’t be a match best suited to a player of Arshavin’s size and he wouldn’t fancy the physical approach from Stoke.

The loss of Diaby will be felt the most. His height would have been invaluable in dealing with Stokes aerial threat. Somehow i can’t see Denilson or Ramsey having the same impact in that area.

Eduardo will be on the bench as Nicklas Bendtner is our big-man and he will be relied upon a lot today. Not only to be an outlet in an attacking sense but his role defensively will be important. Bendtner will have to be ready to fight for every long-throw and every corner. Two things are common knowledge:

  1. Stoke are set-piece specialists and score the majority of their goals that way.
  2. Arsenal are poor at defending set-pieces.

So defending set-pieces well is vital today if Arsenal are to get the three points. Stoke are unlikely to score in open play so if we restrict them on set-pieces we have a real shot.

Preferred starting team


Sagna              Campbell             Vermaelen                 Clichy

Fabregas             Song                Ramsey

Eboue                                                                      Nasri


I would keep Eboue in after his MOM performance against Sunderland, plus he is powerful, decent in the air and can cross a ball. Use Theo as an impact sub. Campbell in for Gallas and Ramsey ahead of Denilson, Stoke away is no place for the weak Brazilian.

Clichy form improving

In other news Arsene says Gael Clichy is improving his form.

Against Liverpool and in our last game against Sunderland he had strong performances,” he said.

“He was out for a long time and like every player at the start he was not completely back 100 per cent but I felt in the last two games he was very convincing.”

He needs to be! Clichy has been a shadow of his former self since the fateful day in Birmingham when he gave away a ‘penalty’ in the final minute to deny Arsenal a deserved victory over Birmingham. Of course injuries have interrupted him, but he has been error-prone over the last two years. Maybe an extended injury-free run will get his confidence up and we will get the old Clichy back. I hope so, i am a real fan of his, if only he could improve his crossing!

No early return for Van Persie

Arsene has also poured cold water on hopes that Robin Van Persie will make an early comeback in early April.

“No, I would love to agree but I believe they [the Dutch FA] are a bit optimistic in that,” said the manager.

“I haven’t seen Robin because he is in Holland at the moment but [early April] looks to be a bit early.”

I never took any notice of those reports because the final decision is down to Wenger and i knew he would be cautious over Van Persie’s return. When Arsene says and injury will take 4 weeks that normally means 6, so i don’t expect to see Robin back before the Manchester City game on the 24th of April, with any luck maybe he will make the Champions League first leg on the 20/21st!

Until that day arrives when Van Persie pulls on that No.11 shirt, the pressure is on Bendtner to produce as a central striker. Show us you have what it takes Nik, a brace today will do nicely!

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