'We are ready for a battle'

Arsenal's Joel Campbell (in gold) challenging for the ball with Stoke's Erik Pieters during the 0-0 draw on Sunday.
Arsenal's Joel Campbell (in gold) challenging for the ball with Stoke's Erik Pieters during the 0-0 draw on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Wenger hails team's solid performance as the Gunners go top of EPL on goal difference

LONDON • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has praised his side's ability to deal with Stoke City's "very direct" and "physical" approach in Sunday's goal-less Premier League draw at the Britannia Stadium.

The stalemate allowed Arsenal to return to the top of the Premier League table ahead of surprise package Leicester City on goal difference.

After acknowledging that Stoke had become a more technical side under Mark Hughes, Wenger believed the Potters had taken on a more direct approach often employed by their former manager Tony Pulis.

"Stoke wanted to surprise us by playing a very direct game and made it very physical. We had to fight," Wenger said after the game.

"We expected them to play more on the ground but they decided to go the other way and we dealt quite well with it."

Hughes played down Wenger's claims of excessive physicality, highlighting the fact that Sunday's game passed without a single caution being issued.

"I don't think there was a yellow card, was there?" Hughes asked.

"I don't know why the physical aspect of the game needs to be mentioned. I thought it was a good football game, with both teams trying to win a key Premier League game. That's certainly what we were doing."

Wenger also seemed to relish in the fact that his side took a point, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have already lost at the the Britannia Stadium this season.

A point, in those contexts, is no mean feat. More so, too, because it came without Alexis Sanchez - still not fit enough to make the bench - and Mesut Oezil, who was dropped because of an inflammation in his foot.

"We showed solidarity, fighting spirit," Wenger said. "I cannot fault my team for their attitude. It was spot on. The way they responded to the challenges the game (threw at them) was spot on.

"Overall, it was a very solid performance. We had all of the ingredients of a team who are ready for a fight and to respond.

"It was a battle, a good, old-fashioned Stoke battle."

But, frustratingly for Wenger, his side have now failed to win at the Potteries in six attempts - a sequence that dates back to February 2010.

Arsenal's last victory at the Britannia Stadium was a 3-1 success that became infamous for the sickening broken leg suffered by their midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who was again singled out for some unsavoury abuse by Potters fans during his 250th appearance for the club.

The bad blood from the injury and Ramsey's refusal to accept Ryan Shawcross' apology for the challenge that caused it remains for Stoke fans, who taunted Ramsey throughout Sunday's match with boos and a chant about the damage caused to his leg.

Wenger expressed his dismay with the supporters who sang: "Aaron Ramsey, he walks with a limp."

The manager said: "I have no influence on it and I don't know what generally you should do about it. When people get together, sometimes they forget their individual responsibility.

"Maybe when you go home and watch it on television you are less proud. I focus on the game. I shut my ears - I think that's the best way to deal with it."

Yesterday, Stoke's chairman Peter Coates condemned those supporters who subjected Ramsey to shameful chants.

"I know it's a minority (of fans)," he said.

"People chant all sorts of awful things at all sorts of grounds, which I dislike.

"Do I approve of that sort of chanting? Of course I don't."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline ''We are ready for a battle''. Print Edition | Subscribe