Arsenal-Stoke City Preview
Arsene Wenger was frustrated with Arsenal's latest result, and he's had plenty of reasons to be irked at Britannia Stadium.
Alexis Sanchez's potential return could brighten the manager's mood Sunday when the Gunners attempt to beat Stoke City on the road for the first time in almost six years.
Arsenal (13-4-4) appeared set to remain the league leaders Wednesday, but they were stunned in the final minute and settled for a 3-all draw at Liverpool. Instead of maintaining their lead on Leicester City, they fell into a tie for first and lead on goal difference.
"I'm frustrated by the result but not by the performance even if we were a bit apprehensive," Wenger told the team's official website. "They need to transform the frustration they have in the dressing room at the moment to even more motivation for the next game.
"There is a lot of positives in the game and there is more positives than negatives in the game. I think what happened (Wednesday) should strengthen their belief that they have a big part to play in this league."
Arsenal are trying to prove their capable of winning the league for the first time since the "Invincibles" in 2004, and a win at Britannia would further enhance their argument.
The Gunners have only managed to score four goals while going 0-2-3 in five visits to Stoke-on-Trent, dating to a victory Feb. 27, 2010. Last season's 3-2 defeat there resulted in Wenger being heckled by Arsenal fans after he waited to board a train back to London following the match.
The team again will be traveling to Stoke-on-Trent by train, hoping for a happier round trip from the capital.
Goals from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud delivered a 2-0 home victory over the Potters (9-5-7) on Sept. 12.
Sanchez was on the team sheet in that meeting and could be again as he tries to return from a hamstring injury.
"I will be cautious now. There is an opportunity that he will be in the squad for Sunday," Wenger said. "He will have a definite test on Saturday and Friday and Saturday will be two important days for him. It is not impossible that he will be involved."
Sanchez's nine goals across all competitions are second on the team to Giroud's 18.
He's scored twice in three career games against Stoke, getting both goals in a 3-0 win in London on Jan. 11, 2015.
Giroud is among the Premier League leaders with 12 goals after scoring twice against Liverpool. The forward has seven goals in the past eight away matches, but he hasn't tallied while mustering just two shots on target in three games at Stoke. In fact, his goal against them in September was his first in seven career matches.
Arsenal also dipped into the transfer market Thursday, signing midfielder Mohamed Elneny from Switzerland side FC Basel. The 23-year-old Elneny has been part of three title-winning teams in the Swiss Super League and also has played in both the Champions and Europa League each of the past three seasons.
"His strengths are his technical level, his vision, his intelligence, his disciplined attitude and his physical attitude to compete at a high level," Wenger said. "Where he needs to adapt is to the challenges, the force needed in the Premier League to survive."
The Potters enter the weekend seventh after winning three of their last four matches, including a 2-0 victory over Manchester United on Boxing Day.
Stoke beat Norwich City 3-1 on Wednesday after manager Mark Hughes made seven changes to his first XI.
"It's important we keep everybody involved, most guys haven't had a great deal of football and we need to make sure everybody is capable of making an impact if called upon," Hughes said. "We're entering a really strong period of games and we're going to need everybody."
That's especially true with Xherdan Shaqiri possibly out for a second straight game with a hamstring injury.
"He may miss out on Sunday's game," Hughes said. "The likelihood is he will probably need at least 10 days possibly more and that's a real shame."
The boss also said Marko Arnautovic is having trouble with his hamstring. Hughes replaced the forward in the 76th minute as a precaution Wednesday after he set up a goal by Jonathan Walters.
Arnautovic has four goals over the past five home games.