Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has chance to erase Stoke City pain

Wenger has increasingly found himself under fire from Arsenal supporters in recent seasons, but the criticism reached new levels of vitriol after last month’s 3-2 loss at the Britannia Stadium.

Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal looks on before the Premier League match against West Ham United at Boleyn Ground on December 28, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s clash with Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday offers Arsene Wenger the chance to erase the bitter taste of one of his most testing days as manager.

Wenger has increasingly found himself under fire from Arsenal supporters in recent seasons, but the criticism reached new levels of vitriol after last month’s 3-2 loss at the Britannia Stadium.

The game summed up the inconsistency that has dogged Wenger’s side for years, and the Frenchman was forced to run a gauntlet of abuse from furious fans when he boarded the club’s train home at Stoke station.

Arsenal’s form briefly improved after that dispiriting loss, but another lacklustre defeat at Southampton triggered familiar complaints from fans and pundits, and anything less than victory against Mark Hughes’ side this weekend will again throw the focus on Wenger’s position.

Arsenal lie sixth, three points off the Uefa Champions League places, and must put together an improved run if they are to reclaim their familiar position in the top four.

Wenger says fortune is now swinging in his side’s favour after a difficult run of injuries during the first half of the season.

Defenders Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Debuchy are fit again, while midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini all returned to training this week.

“I feel we are getting stronger now. We could benefit from that because these are players who are not overloaded with games,” Wenger said.

“Some of our players have played 26 or 27 games, whereas some have played four or five. These players coming back can give us some impact for the coming months.”

Olivier Giroud is available again after serving a three-match ban, and Wenger may be tempted to go with the Frenchman’s physical presence up front rather than use the more lightweight Alexis Sanchez as the main striker.

“Our game is a bit more orientated on crosses when Giroud plays, and sometimes it’s a bit more direct as well because we know we can find him and he can win headers, especially from the goalkeeper,” Wenger said.

“Both options are very interesting and sometimes one is more suited to the game than the other, so Olivier gives us something different. He’s sometimes what makes us a bit more dangerous and gives us a different pattern of play.”

Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny could return to the side after apologising to the manager for smoking in the showers after the Southampton loss.

Szczesny missed the FA Cup victory over Hull City last weekend, and Wenger said: “He made a mistake, he is not the first one or the last one.

“I like Wojciech as a person, and when he makes a mistake he stands up for it.”

Meanwhile, Stoke manager Hughes says his side can match the bigger clubs in the transfer market.

The Potters came close to an audacious signing of Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri this week. The Swiss international joined Inter Milan instead, but Hughes is pleased his side are able to attract players of higher calibre.

“We will continue to look at the market,” he said. “That was the case with Shaqiri. If it does not happen, it does not happen.

“We know the reality is highly unlikely we will get everyone. But they were very impressed in us and what we had to offer. It was not dismissed, that’s what we take from it.”

Hughes could play Victor Moses at Arsenal on Sunday after the Nigerian winger spent six weeks out with a thigh problem.

“Victor looks good, but whether or not he’s ready to start is something I need to mull over,” he said. He’s bang on track, but we’ll be careful of him. He was our best performer before he got injured.

“Marc Muniesa is an option, he had an issue with his groin that settled down.”

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