Arsenal face a trip to Stoke today knowing that a win will almost certainly mean third place is theirs for the taking. They haven't always found Stoke an easy team to play against, and they have struggled away to them at times. Stoke seem to revel in taking their more physical approach into games with Arsenal.
In this fixture two seasons ago Aaron Ramsey suffered a very bad break to his leg thanks to Ryan Shawcross. It set Ramsey back quite a bit in his progress at Arsenal, and I still think he hasn't quite fully recovered. Of course Stoke made themselves and Shawcross out to be the victims of the incident, as he "wasn't that type of player.
Arsenal showed some real fighting spirit that day to win the game with two late goals, and they could do with some of that spirit today. There is no doubt that Arsenal will have to show their battling abilities before they get the chance to show their footballing abilities. If Arsenal can show Stoke they will not be intimidated they can go on to dominate the game, and get the win they need in my opinion.
In team news Yossi Benayoun will return to the squad after he was unable to play against his parent club Chelsea last week. Tomas Rosicky has recovered from the illness which saw him last only 60 minutes against Chelsea, and his influence could be very important for Arsenal. Unfortunately Abu Diaby has been unwell and he won't be fit to play from the start but he will probably make the bench.
Mikael Arteta is out for the rest of the season of course after picking up an injury against Wigan last week. Theo Walcott has a slight chance of playing in the final game of the season after he injured his hamstring against Chelsea. Their absences will mean there are opportunities for others to impress, and hopefully they can take them.
I would imagine the team will be very similar to the one that drew 0-0 with Chelsea last week. The only changes will probably be Gervinho for the injured Walcott, and Benayoun for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I was very impressed with Andre Santos when he came on in a wide left role last week, but he will probably be on the bench again.
Arsenal may not have played very well against Chelsea, but they had some very good chances to win the game. If they get those sort of chances today it's crucial that they take them, and put Stoke away when the opportunity arises. Stoke may not be easy to beat, but they are the lowest scoring team in the Premier League so far this season.
Robin van Persie picked up the two player of the year awards in the last week, and hopefully those accolades will help him to rediscover some goalscoring form. Since he scored against Newcastle in mid March he hasn't got a goal from open play, and Arsenal have had to look elsewhere for their goals. Two of the players who stepped up to take the goalscoring opportunities in those seven games are injured, and it's crucial that others take those responsibilities.
The most likely scorer for Arsenal after RVP is probably Thomas Vermaelen, as he continues to show the rest of Arsenal's defenders where the net is. He has now managed six goals in 25 Premier League games this season, and he is a genuine threat from set as pieces as well as open play. It would be very sweet indeed for Arsenal to take the points with a goal from a set piece against a team that pride themselves in their abilities from such situations.
Stoke's biggest threat will come from set pieces of course, as they have a lot of very tall players in their team. Arsenal will have to be strong defensively, and Wojciech Szczesny will have to command his penalty area. If the team play as a unit and defend together when it is need they should be able to resist the inevitable aerial bombardment.
Stoke's chances to bombard Arsenal will of course be limited to when they have the ball, and Arsenal need to keep possession as much as possible. Hopefully a fully fit Rosicky will inject some of the pace that was clearly missing in their play last week. He has the ability to take the game to Stoke, and make things happen on the pitch for Arsenal.
I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal, and I would dearly love to see Ramsey get one of the goals. He has taken some criticism recently as he hasn't played too well, but he always gives everything he has. Maybe a goal in the stadium where he had his worst moment in football would be the boost he needs to kick start his Arsenal career again.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.