Friday 21 October 2016

Wenger: we can cope at lofty Stoke

Arsene Wenger says Arsenal are more experienced this season to deal with Stoke Photo: Getty
Arsene Wenger says Arsenal are more experienced this season to deal with Stoke Photo: Getty

Arsene Wenger is surprised by Stoke's footballing revolution but feels the big names they have attracted proves Premier League still has pulling power.

Wenger takes his table-topping Arsenal to the Britannia Stadium tomorrow, with the Gunners having won only once in the league at Stoke in 34 years.

The Arsenal players and management received a barrage of abuse from angry fans last year as they boarded their train back to London following a 3-2 defeat.

But they go back this season with their best chance of taking the league title for the first time since 2004, sitting top on goal difference from Leicester after drawing 3-3 at Liverpool on Wednesday night.

While Stoke have held a jinx over Arsenal in recent years with their robust and direct style of play at odds with that of Wenger's teams, Mark Hughes has introduced an attractive approach in the last two years.

He has tempted a host of European football's most prestigious talents to the Potteries and Wenger has been impressed with their alterations.

Asked if he was surprised at how Stoke have evolved, Wenger said: "Yes, I think they have gone a more technical and creative way.

"They have proved their creative potential and it's a symbol of Premier League power because Ibrahim Afellay has played at Barcelona, Xhedran Shaqiri at Bayern Munich, Bojan at Barcelona, Marko Arnautovic at Werder Bremen.

"So they have players who have played at the top European clubs. They have not taken them because they were bad and today they play at Stoke so that shows you the financial power of the Premier League."

Despite the fans showing their displeasure following the loss at Stoke last December, Wenger has said he has no qualms travelling by train once again.

The 66-year-old believes having a more experienced side, coupled with Stoke's change in approach, could see his side banish those memories.

"First of all, when we had a very young team we had a style that was maybe a little bit rough for us and we could not always cope with it," he added.

"Last year we went to Stoke with a very young defence - we had Bellerin, Chambers, Martinez - and at the start of the game we got caught.

"Petr Cech is 34, (Per) Mertesacker 30, (Laurent) Koscielny 30, (Nacho) Monreal 30... Before we did not have that level of experience and that helps a little bit.

"But over the years they had a very efficient, traditional English style which nobody liked to play against and at home it is as well a very windy stadium.

"I think it feels stronger. It is always a test Stoke and I believe our record goes against us but it is interesting as well because it is also a mental test to show we have moved forward and that we can deal with what Stoke offer."

The unpredictable nature of this year's Premier League means Mark Hughes is adjusting Stoke's targets this season, with a top-four finish now not out of the question.

"It wasn't what we were aiming for at the beginning of the season but, as the season progresses and the league takes shape, your realistic targets change," the Welshman said when asked if a top-four finish was achievable.

"It's fair to say we've changed our targets in terms of what we think we can achieve this year. I'm not necessarily saying we're going for the Champions League at all, but you never know? It's one of those seasons. We could get to a point in March, April where we're very much in the mix and we'll have a go.

Shaqiri will not face Wenger's Gunners after suffering a hamstring injury while Geoff Cameron is highly unlikely to return because of an ankle problem.

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