Tomorrow has taken on a must-win kind of feel. That being the case there are not many worse places for Arsenal to visit than Stoke City. Our struggles against this lot, particularly at their ground, have been well documented. I've read a lot of quotes from our players and Manager this past couple of days where they've used the words "battle" or "fight" but I'd rather they concentrated on playing Stoke off the pitch. The fact is that, if we impose our game on them, they won't get forward enough to trouble us with the high ball, or long throw, in to our penalty area.
In the absence of Mikel Arteta I expect Aaron Ramsey to continue in the middle of the pitch. There was a thought that Abou Diaby might start tomorrow but he apparently has a "virus" and faces a fitness test (I don't believe that he has a virus). Ramsey struggled badly, along with the rest of the team, when we got hammered at Stoke this time last year. For once it wasn't the usual kicking being given to us either, but Aaron failed to shake off the ghosts of his previous visit when Shawcross snapped his leg in two. Tomorrow he must step up to the plate. The lad has been under such pressure recently that I can see him getting a goal, and it is certainly long overdue. Anything that shoves the sick abuse from the Stoke fans back down their horrible northern throats is more than welcome.
Lots of cretins
Elsewhere in the Arsenal team we are likely to see the hard working Yossi Benayoun come in, and then the boss has a decision to make as to who replaces Theo Walcott. As usual I would like to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain in the starting line-up. The Ox will have no problem addressing the physical challenge of playing against Stoke. He is strong and tough and should relish the chance to run at a poor defence.
You might have guessed from the tone of this piece that I dislike Stoke City. You would be right. I dislike their supporters intensely. Don't get me wrong, they are great fans of their club, and create a non-stop and intimidating atmosphere in their stadium. But they are the same people that rejoiced in what Shawcross did to Aaron Ramsey. If that's how they want to support their team then they're welcome to it.
I also dislike Tony Pulis. This man refused to condemn Shawcross' tackle on Rambo, and is the archetypal small club whinger. He loves getting one over on the big boys, and fair play for that. But he is also very quick to claim that something other than the superior quality on show at a big club is the reason why he might lose those games occasionally. At risk of being pulled up over Arsene Wenger's behaviour on occasion, it really irks me when you get the small club syndrome whingeing whenever something goes wrong. Pulis is a cretin of the highest order and, while I can respect his outstanding success with Stoke, and his ability to coach his players to stick to a very effective style of play, he remains the antithesis of football in the Premier League era. Wimbledon used to be castigated for playing like Stoke do, only they were far better at it. For some reason I can not fathom, Pulis is seen as a genius by our media, where Dave Bassett and Bobby Gould were marked out as villains for their team and its considerable glories. I just don't get it.
As I said at the start of this piece, Arsenal must win tomorrow. If they do then third place is ours for the taking. We must make sure we are ready to do just that.
Cue the neanderthal reaction when this appears on Stoke's NewsNow feed.