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Rupert Wyman 26th Feb 2010 - 23:16

Arsenal to edge a scrappy game

Arsenal can attempt to push on in the title race by winning against a Stoke side that is unbeaten, since the turn of the year. Tony Pulis' Stoke ended 2009 in a rut, but they are very much in-form and they disposed of Manchester City in the cup midweek.

The Gunner's were taken apart for the second successive year at the Britannia Stadium by Stoke in January's FA Cup match.  Stoke will fancy their chances of a fifth successive home league win against Arsenal at the weekend.

It will certainly be a tough game for Arsenal, they go into the Stoke match six points adrift of Chelsea, needing the win with eleven Premier League games remaining.

Wenger tends to look down his nose at Stoke, he cannot tolerate their direct, rough, long ball based style of play and will not fancy a trip north to the Britannia.

Stoke are a stubborn side, last Saturday they battled to a last gasp 2-1 away victory at Fratton Park, despite playing the last seventeen minutes with only ten men following Wilkinson's controversial dismissal.

Pulis has instilled a fantastic team ethic at Stoke and the players enjoy playing for him.

If Arsenal are going to take the three points they must concentrate on defending Rory Delap's throw-ins.

Not only did his delivery set up Fuller's goal against Arsenal in the cup. He set up both goals in a 2-1 Stoke win against them in November 2008.

Arsenal also need to be wary of Stoke's attack, consisting of Fuller, Tuncay and Sidibe. Tuncay may have to play a cameo from the bench as it is unlikely he will play as a wide midfielder against such dangerous opposition.

Stoke will have to counter the threat of the Arsenal wingers, Nasri's trickery and Walcott's pace could cause endless problems. However, the narrow pitch is bound to cause Arsenal's attacking players problems and they may struggle to play down the wings effectively.

Hardman Abdoulaye Faye should return for Stoke after his three game suspension and he will be asked to stop Fabregas' surging runs. Wilkinson may also play after suspension.

For Arsenal; Van Persie, Gibbs, Djourou and Gallas are all long term injury casualties.  Arshavin and Eduardo remain a doubt for the Stoke game due to hamstring trouble and Diaby's knee problem means he will not participate.

Even though Wenger has a few injury problems, he will pick a far stronger first eleven than the Arsenal side that faced Stoke in January, there will be no place for youngsters such as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Frances Coquelin.

I would have a small flutter on there being 'over 6 Match Cards at 6/1', I think that price is a little long considering the importance of the game to Arsenal and Stoke's volatility off the ball. If Chelsea have extended their lead over Arsenal by kick-off at the Britannia, it really will be a must win game for Arsene Wenger.

With Stoke's Premier League survival virtually ensured, they will attack Arsenal and play hard, not allowing for any free flowing elegant football. It could be a very tempestuous affair, with the referee required to keep order and 6/1 is a reasonable price.

Opta stats state that, 'Ricardo Fuller has scored against Arsenal in all three of his starts against them for Tony Pulis' side in all competitions'. The 9/4 on offer at the moment for Fuller to score anytime is a great price and I would punt on it confidently.

A win for Arsenal is essential, both United and Chelsea managed to win this year at the Britannia and Arsenal could be out of the title race by 7:15pm on Saturday evening. Much has been said of the Gunner's easy title run-in, this will be of little consolation to the fans if they cannot take three points tomorrow.



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