Arsenal will aim to snatch back top spot on the Premier League table when they host Stoke City at the Emirates on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger’s men had a torrid time of it in the last league round, watching their lead at the head of the table evaporate as Manchester City destroyed West Ham United, then relinquishing top spot altogether with a crushing 1-0 loss at Manchester United.
That defeat saw Arsenal fall to second on 32 points, goal difference ahead of City and two points adrift of United.
Wenger bizarrely blamed the Old Trafford pitch after the match, deflecting attention from the growing belief that Arsenal simply do not turn up for ‘big’ games against the league’s top sides.
With Chelsea looming on the other side of the mid-season break, the Gunners will look to get back to their winning ways against Stoke.
History heavily favours Arsenal, given the Potters have not won at the Emirates in close to three decades.
But if Stoke learned anything from their shock 1-0 loss to Blackpool last time out, it is that fortune favours the bold.
Blackpool’s attacking brand of football was again on show at Britannia Stadium and should have given Stoke some idea of what to expect when they take on Arsenal, whose season tally of 34 goals is bettered only by Manchester United.
Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic is going to be called into action early and often by the Gunners, who will be smarting from their loss to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
But the Bosnia international is spouting a familiar sporting refrain to keep hopes high of a massive upset on Saturday.
“In football, anything is possible,” Begovic told the Stoke City Player.
“Teams like ourselves have gone to Arsenal this season and beaten them, so there is absolutely no reason why we can’t do the same at the weekend.”
“Yes, we will need every single player to be on top of their game, and yes, we will need a little bit of luck, but if that does happen then we can surprise a few people.”
“We have quality players here with the pace and ability to hurt teams, so hopefully people will see that this time.”
Arsenal have proved fallible at home this term, with losses to Tottenham, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion.
But Stoke will need to score goals to effect an upset, and will be relying on Kenwyne Jones and Matthew Etherington to get them.
Jones, who leads Stoke with four goals this term, has not scored for one month now and will be itching to get on the scoresheet again, while Etherington was held goalless for the first time in four matches against Blackpool.
On the injury front, Arsenal will sweat on the fitness of talisman Cesc Fabregas, who spent the first hour of Monday’s match on the bench as he recovers from a hamstring strain.
Young Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny made his debut for the Gunners at Old Trafford ahead of incumbent Lukasz Fabianski and may well be retained following a promising performance.
Left-back Keiran Gibbs is in the midst of another stint on the sidelines with an ankle injury, but midfielder Abou Diaby is a chance to return after almost being named against United.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis is faring better, with Mamady Sidibe’s Achilles injury his only major concern.
On-loan winger Jermaine Pennant played 70 minutes against Blackpool and will most likely be deployed for the full term at Arsenal.