Arsenal still gunning for late flourish to season

Arsenal will be banking on Alexis Sanchez - who has scored 14 away goals - to lead the line against Stoke City.
Arsenal will be banking on Alexis Sanchez - who has scored 14 away goals - to lead the line against Stoke City.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • There is nothing Arsene Wenger relishes more than confounding his doubters, and the Arsenal manager will know today whether he has a strong chance of doing so once again.

The Frenchman's side travel to Stoke City having boosted their chances of qualifying for the Champions League - a task that looked a lost cause just a few weeks ago - by winning 2-0 at Southampton on Wednesday.

That left Arsenal fifth in the Premier League, three points behind Manchester City in the slot directly above.

City will have played their home game with Leicester City by the time Arsenal kick off at Stoke, and a Gunners victory is sure to stoke up the pressure on Liverpool, who are third.

Jurgen Klopp's side are four points better off than Arsenal, but crucially have played one fixture more than City and the Gunners, and are at West Ham tomorrow.

But, while Wenger cannot wait to say "told you so" to his critics, Gunners defender Shkodran Mustafi is still concerned his team may have left it a little too late.

"I wish we had found that before," he said of Arsenal's recent revival. "But now we have three games and we have to give everything to try and get everything out of all the games. Hopefully at the end we'll reach our goals."

Arsenal will finish the campaign with home games against relegated Sunderland and then Everton, but first they must focus on ending their poor run at Stoke.

They have not won there since 2010, losing on four of their eight visits, and Wenger's men will be hopeful of ending that sorry sequence so long as Alexis Sanchez is in the team.

The Chilean scored at Southampton to take his Premier League goal tally for the season to 20, and 14 of those have been in away games.

Arsenal will be facing a Stoke side with just one win from their last nine games, yet Stoke manager Mark Hughes is confident his players will rise to the occasion.

"We certainly aren't fazed by Arsenal, despite them coming into the game on the back of a really strong run of results," he said yesterday. "We like to upset teams who come here and expect to win."

With two games to play, 13th-placed Stoke could still finish as high as eighth in the standings, which would be their highest finish in English football since 1975.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

STOKE V ARSENAL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Arsenal still gunning for late flourish to season'. Print Edition | Subscribe