Arsenal seek to break Britannia Stadium curse

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reacts during the English Premier League soccer match at Liverpool, Britain, on Jan 13, 2016.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reacts during the English Premier League soccer match at Liverpool, Britain, on Jan 13, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON • Speak to Arsenal's players and coaching staff about their dreadful recent record away to Stoke City and a miserable run of two draws and three defeats is dismissed as "just one of those things".

Push Arsene Wenger on the subject and the manager is more open, admitting to a series of psychological and physical shortcomings that have made his players more fragile in the Potteries than antique Wedgwood.

Wenger is adamant that this season will be different, and history suggests that it will have to be if Arsenal are to fulfil their potential by winning the Premier League title.

In what is either a statistical quirk or a revealing insight into the make-up of champions, no Premier League-winning side have lost away to Stoke.

  • WHO WILL WIN THE AERIAL BATTLE?

  • Ryan Shawcross has been consistently excellent in the heart of Stoke City's defence and the Potters struggle without him. He faces Arsenal's top scorer Olivier Giroud, who has been a crucial presence in their attack this season.

    With Shawcross 11 played, 20 points

    Without 10 played, 12 points

Manchester City were the only team even to draw there en route to lifting the trophy, which suggests that today's visit to the Britannia Stadium is a litmus test for Arsenal in more ways than one.

Arsenal have failed such a test every year since February 2010, in contrast to an excellent run of eight successive home wins against the same opponents.

This indicates that their problems with the fixture are more nuanced than their difficulty in coping with Stoke's traditionally physical style of play.

Arsenal's staff have suggested that the geography of the Britannia Stadium is a factor, because it is one of the most exposed grounds in the Premier League and often extremely windy.

The narrow pitch also militates against one of Wenger's key tactics in attacking through the full-backs.

While the corners of the ground are open, the rest of the crowd is close to the pitch, which makes for an intimidating atmosphere.

"At the Emirates we're at home and our game is easier to play," Wenger said of the disparity in results between the two venues.

"And let's not forget that for years they had that narrow pitch where every throw-in beyond halfway was a corner when Rory Delap played.

"Over the years they had a very efficient, traditional English style which nobody liked to play against, and it is also a very windy stadium."

Arsenal face another bogey team when Chelsea visit the Emirates next Sunday - Wenger's team have not beaten their bitter London rivals in eight Premier League meetings - but it is their away form that is likely to decide their fate in the race for the Premier League title.

A difficult run-in, which includes trips to Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United, is causing Wenger concern as he plots the rest of the campaign, particularly as Arsenal have won only one of their past five away matches and conceded seven goals in their most recent two.

Ending their Stoke hoodoo could not be more timely.

THE TIMES, LONDON

STOKE CITY V ARSENAL
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'Arsenal seek to break Britannia Stadium curse'. Print Edition | Subscribe