Eyes are trained on ending stoke rut

Wenger, abused for Arsenal's repeated losses at the Britannia, tells men to prove title worth

LONDON • Arsene Wenger has called on his Arsenal players to prove their title credentials tomorrow by putting an end to their long run of failures at Stoke City.

Arsenal have lost on three of their past five trips to the Britannia Stadium, where they have not won since 2010, and their manager said that victory this time would be a significant indicator of their ability to stay at the top of the Premier League.

"We have to show that we have made a big step forward and can beat them," said Wenger, who last season endured one of the low points of his reign - abused by irate travelling fans at Stoke-on-Trent train station after a 2-3 setback .

"I didn't take it personally," he said. "It was my function, and the fact that I am responsible for the results of the club, that was attacked, not so much my person. I was more sad and upset by the result than the individual reactions of people."

If Arsenal are to get a better result this time, they will have to tame the hosts, who typically relish visits from the Londoners who, this season, are also the league leaders.

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Stoke have already beaten champions Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs at home, although they may have to do without the hamstrung duo Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic this time.

The winger Shaqiri, their £12 million (S$24.8 million) club-record signing, was particularly impressive against City, while the striker Arnautovic scored against Chelsea (twice), City and United.

Wenger recognises that Stoke have added flair to their repertoire this term but still foresees a tough, if not physical, encounter.

"They have moved forward and improved their creative potential with players like Arnautovic, Bojan (Krkic) and Shaqiri. They can create and play," he said.

"It'll be a similar test to Liverpool and we'll need the same intensity, the same desire and focus again."

The 3-3 draw at Liverpool on Wednesday, added to the 0-4 loss at Southampton on Boxing Day, means that the Gunners have conceded seven goals in their past two away games.

Wenger said his team "lacked a little bit of calmness" in the late stages at Anfield, and that there were "little details we've to work on and improve" if they are to reassert the solidity that they enjoyed before.

He has the option of deploying his new midfielder, Mohamed Elneny, but said he has yet to decide whether to thrust the Egyptian straight into battle.

Indeed, he has yet to decide on the precise role that the £5 million signing from Basel will fulfil.

"I bought Elneny because he can play with a defensive player and, as well, he can be a defensive player," he said. "I need to have daily contact with him to see how well he can win the ball in the Premier League.

"That will be decisive in whether to transform him into a defensive midfielder rather than more of a box-to-box player."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'EYES ARE TRAINED ON ENDING STOKE RUT'. Print Edition | Subscribe