This is a big fixture for us and one with an unfortunate history to say the least. It’s an even bigger game now that Chelsea have secured another route to one of England’s Champions League spots next season. There are still a few twists left in this season but the key point is that only third place guarantees Champions League football right now and we need maximum points to do it.
Stoke play a basic, ugly and uncompromising game. You could be charitable and say that’s fair enough when you’re trying to survive in the Premier League on their budget. But the history of this fixture, particularly the booing of Ramsey last time, throws charity out of the window and the likes of Wigan, Norwich and Swansea shows that with sufficient management talent any club in the Premier League can aspire to play football if they really want to.
Stoke will be without defender Andy Wilkinson and maybe Jermaine Pennant too. Last week Stoke got beat 3:0. But we know that they can still stop us winning and from set-pieces (which for Stoke includes throw-ins) they can get goals. Their last four home games have seen them get three wins and a draw.
Who will play for Arsenal? Clearly Theo Walcott won’t. Although there was better news about his hamstring injury from an England perspective, he won’t play for Arsenal again this season.
I think that the back five pick themselves, plus Song, Rosicky and Van Persie. Who will get the last three places? Alongside Rosicky I was hoping that there would be a choice to made between Diaby and Ramsey. Benayoun could play a central role but I think it’s less likely. But the news is that Diaby has been ill this week so he will not start. I guess it’s Ramsey then.
Which leaves the two wide positions up front. Two from Benayoun, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain. You can make a case for any combination. I think that one of them will be Benayoun. Being intelligible for the Chelsea game gave him a break and I would have thought that the run-in was a time for experience. On the other side it’s more of a guess. Probably Gervinho to start. If were chasing a result then Arsene Wenger can throw on Santos and the Ox to mix it up in the second half.
So I reckon:
_______ Szczesny ______
Sagna _ Kos _ Verm _ Gibbs
________ Song ________
___ Rosicky _ Ramsey ___
Gervinho _ RVP _ Benayoun
Come on you Gunners!