Arsene Wenger looks to keep Arsenal's title bid on track against Stoke

Arsene Wenger will again travel to Stoke on the train with his Arsenal squad despite the abuse they received following defeat at the Britannia Stadium last season.

The Gunners were beaten 3-2 at Stoke in December 2014, and Wenger and his players came in for criticism from angry supporters as they boarded their train back to London.

This season, there is more goodwill from fans as Arsenal sit top of the Premier League despite conceding a last-gasp equaliser in a 3-3 draw at Liverpool on Wednesday.

And, despite his belief that there could an escalation in such occurrences in the future, Wenger has no plans to change the way the team travel to Stoke tomorrow — where Arsenal have won just once in the league in the last 25 years.

When asked if Arsenal would again travel by train, Wenger replied: “Yes.

“We travel in what we think is the best and the shortest way. You want as well not to be isolated too much because you want contact with people who love the club, you want contact with the fans.

“I took it (the abuse from supporters) as people who were upset because we lost a game and didn’t take it personally.

“I was sad and upset more by the result than by the individual reactions of people, which I can understand.

“When you love a club, you want the results to be positive.”

Wenger reckons supporters venting their frustrations could become more of an issue having witnessed similar scenes in France recently.

“It’s a more common thing now and I believe it will be a problem in the coming years. That problem I see it, observing in Europe,” he said.

“I see in France especially now in the last two or three weeks, many problems occurred with disappointing results on that front.

“It might be one of the problems that football has to face in the coming years. You see it in many countries now.”

Wenger believes a lack of experience last season cost them in the Potteries.

“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.”

Once his squad has arrived in Stoke, Wenger will have to make two key decisions over team selection.

Midfielder Mohamed Elneny, signed from Basle on Thursday, is in contention to make his debut but Wenger is undecided on whether to throw in the 23-year-old straight into his team.

“He is available for selection, I haven’t decided (if he will play) yet,” the Arsenal boss said.

“I have to see how everyone has recovered. Apparently we have no injuries form the Liverpool game, so he is a possibility to be in the squad for Sunday.”

The other major call is whether to bring Alexis Sanchez back into the squad as the Chile star is fit following a niggling hamstring injury.

Sanchez has been missing since a draw at Norwich in November and, with Joel Campbell flourishing in his absence, Wenger is in no hurry to rush the former Barcelona man back — admitting it would be a risk to play him at Stoke.

“The other question mark is about Alexis,” he added.

“He has two decisive days — today and tomorrow. He is fit, has worked very hard and the decision we have to take is whether to take a gamble or not on his injury.”

Stoke boss Mark Hughes has tempted a host of European football’s most prestigious talents to the Potteries in the past two years 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.”

For his part, Hughes believes Arsenal have been the best side in the Premier League this season.

“Arsenal are top on merit, and of all of the top teams in the league this season they are the ones who are actually playing like a top, top team,” he said.

“To be perfectly honest, the rest have slipped away a little bit and have been uncharacteristic in terms of what you would expect from them.

“Arsenal have done really well though, gone about their business superbly and are playing some fantastic stuff at the moment.”


Lifestyle

Bryan Stevenson is the American civil rights lawyer who provided the inspiration for the newly-released film Just Mercy. Esther McCarthy spoke to him in IrelandReal-life lawyer Bryan Stevenson on inspiring Just Mercy

So I’ve booked my holidays. And before you ask, yes, I’m basing it around food and wine. I’ll report back in July, but I thought readers might be interested in my plan should you be thinking about a similar holiday.Wines to pick up on a trip to France

Esther N McCarthy is on a roll for the new year with sustainable solutions, cool citruses and vintage vibes.Wish List: Sustainable solutions, cool citruses and vintage vibes

They have absolutely nothing really to do with Jerusalem or indeed with any type of artichoke, so what exactly are these curious little tubers?Currabinny Cooks: Exploring the versatility of Jerusalem artichokes

More From The Irish Examiner