Trophy hunting Stoke prove they're no joke
The team with one eye on ending a long barren spell without a trophy take on a team with almost nothing to play for. This scenario would have been unimaginable, unthinkable, to the Gunners fans in attendance at the Emirates in February when a single Sebastien Squillaci goal was enough to see off a spirited Stoke City goal and send them to within one point of the league leading Manchester United.
FA Cup finalists Stoke City are just seven days from their big day at Wembley and could not be criticised for resting some of their big name players for this one. However, Tony Pulis would also love a top ten finish for his team, something they have not managed since 1975 and three points against Arsene Wenger would be all the more sweeter.
Arsenal (4/6 Match betting) are now six points behind United with only three games left. It's almost a certainty that their infamous trophy drought will extend to another frustrating season.
All eyes though will be on the returning Aaron Ramsey (10/1 first scorer,7/2 anytime) at the Britannia. The meeting of the sides sees the first crossing of Ryan Shawcross and the Welsh star since Shawcross' challenge left the Arsenal midfielder with a broken leg last February. Ramsey , who scored the winner against Man United last week , showed glimpses of the form he was displaying before his injury and is expected to start in the centre of midfield alongside Jack Wilshere (16/1 first scorer, 6/1 anytime).
Hoping to steal the headlines for the visitors will be Robin van Persie. In two previous appearances against the Potters, the Dutchman has scored twice and been sent off once but far more impressively, he has scored 18 goals in 20 games in 2011, including goals in the last seven league away matches. For van Persie to score again in this one you'll receive odds of 4/1 for the first goal and EVS anytime.
Stoke (4/1) will be far from overawed when the Gunners arrive at the Britannia. City have won four of their last five encounters with Arsenal, and also knocked Arsene Wenger's men out of the FA Cup last season.
Tony Pulis will be without his injured quartet of Etherington, Fuller, Higginbotham and Sidibe but he will still have confidence in the team he puts out to churn out a result. His side has lost only one of their last six matches and are looking to keep three consecutive Premier League clean sheets for the first time in thirteen months.
Before fluffing his lines in embarrassing fashion at Blackpool last week, Stoke centre forward Kenwyne Jones had scored in three successive matches. Jones is the sort of tall, strong, muscular forward that Arsenal, on their travels, struggle to handle and if the Trinidad & Tobago international is in the mood Stoke can add another victory to their collection. If you fancy the former Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday striker to score he can be backed at 7/1 to break the deadlock.
My recommendations for this game are for an Arsenal victory. Buoyed by their win over Man United I can see the Gunners taking this one by a score of 2-1 (15/2).
A value bet could be an anytime goal for Stoke's German centre back Robert Huth at 11/2. Arsenal are weak at set pieces and very few in the Premier League attack a delivery like Huth.