Arsenal travel to Stoke City with a dark and down-heartening history. It is time for the stars to shine when they are needed most.
When do you think the last time Arsenal beat Stoke City away from home was? They have a notoriously bad record against Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis’ men, faltering under the physical pressure that the Potters enforce. But if I asked you for a particular date or season, when would you go for?
Last season? Two years ago? Even three? No, in fact, the last time Wenger left Stoke with three points in his back pocket was in February 2010. He watched on as his side won 3-1 thanks to two extra-time goals. It was the same game that Aaron Ramsey broke his leg thanks to a mistimed tackle from Ryan Shawcross.
More from Pain in the Arsenal
- Arsenal and Mikel Arteta have one final shot at redemption
- Arsenal not capitalising on dominance has structural origins
- Burnley vs Arsenal: 4 talking points from infuriating draw
- Arsenal vs Burnley: Lack of concentration Mikel Arteta’s fault?
- Arsenal player ratings vs Burnley: Granit Xhaka howler in dramatic draw
In fact, in their last six games at the Britannia Stadium, what is now called the Bet 365 stadium – don’t you just love the influx of advertising in modern football? – Arsenal have won none, drawn three and lost three. They have enjoyed success in the return fixture in North London, with their latest win in the confines and the comforts of their own home, coming earlier this season, which put them atop the Premier League. But away from home, this has been a game where wins have evaded them. And Saturday evening’s tie is a must-win game.
This history of crumbling under the barrage of long balls and long throw-ins, hustling, busting centre-forwards and bullying, domineering defenders has weighed down heavily on the Gunners. They, like their fans and the media and their many many critics, are well aware of their historical struggles. Oh, how they need their stars to shine.
But their stars have been somewhat sputtering in recent weeks. While it was the timely passing of Mesut Ozil and the audacity of Alexis Sanchez that opened up Southampton on Wednesday night, neither have played at a level that is expected of them. In fact, since the turn of the year, Ozil and Sanchez have combined for 29 appearances, yielding just 10 goals and eight assists.
The attacking lights of the Gunners have somewhat dimmed. As Wenger now marshals his team for one last miraculous run to preserve his unblemished Champions League qualification record, nothing less than a win will suffice. But there are many many places that Wenger would prefer to be sending his team than to Stoke.
Both Ozil and Sanchez will start in their free-roaming, sometimes free-loading, roles wide of the central attacker. They are the stars of this Arsenal team. They are the centrepieces, the apple of Wenger’s eye, and oh how he needs them to shine, even amid the dim and down-heartening history of a trip to Stoke.