Arsenal looks to get title bid back on track

December 17, 2010

Arsenal will look to get back on track in the Premier League title race on Saturday against a club whose physical and direct style of play has both frustrated and troubled Arsene Wenger's side in recent seasons.

Wenger has often been critical of Stoke's approach and is hoping the match at Emirates Stadium will be one for the purists as Arsenal seeks to rebound from its 1-0 loss to title rival Manchester United on Monday.

"What is important is we want to see a football game where both teams play good football," said Wenger. "It is Arsenal against Stoke. Every game is different and it is a new start for us."

With Manchester United, which is two points clear at the top with a game in hand, facing a tough trip to Chelsea on Sunday, Arsenal has a chance to retake the lead if it wins and United loses.

The last time it met Stoke - at Britannia Stadium in February - Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey broke his leg as a result of a late challenge by Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross. Wenger was furious at that tackle and this season accused Shawcross and fellow Stoke center back Robert Huth of behaving like rugby players during a game against Tottenham.

Wenger wants to consign these incidents to history and is focusing on improving his side's poor home record in the league this campaign, which has seen the Gunners lose to West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle and Tottenham.

"What happened in the past, happened in the past," Wenger said. "There is no need to add any fuel on it and we just focus on playing football as we always do and respecting our opponents."

Stoke, which beat Arsenal 3-1 in the FA Cup last season and 2-1 in the league in the 2008-09 campaign, is looking for another upset win.

"I can't control what Wenger says (about Stoke) or does," said Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who was keen to stress this week that his side has a better disciplinary record than Arsenal. "I don't know the fella - but if he criticizes this club for whatever reason then you have to stand up for yourself.

"People have perceptions and you struggle to change those sometimes."

Cesc Fabregas should make his return to the starting XI for Arsenal after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Alex Ferguson will look to celebrate surpassing Matt Busby as United's longest-serving manager by guiding his unbeaten team to a second successive win against a title rival.

"They are a very experienced side," Ferguson said of Chelsea, which has slipped to fourth by winning just one of its last seven games. "The last six years, in terms of the title race, has been about Manchester United and Chelsea so you are going to get tough games between us.

"I am going into the game with a strong, confident squad. You want to go there in good form and we are."

Third-place Manchester City, which is level on 32 points with Arsenal, hosts struggling Everton on Monday.

In Sunday's other games, fifth-place Tottenham travels north to Blackpool and West Bromwich is at home to Midlands rival Wolverhampton.

On Saturday, Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson faces his old club Fulham and temporary manager Steve Kean takes charge of Blackburn for the first time following Sam Allardyce's surprise dismissal on Monday when it hosts bottom side West Ham.