Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Saturday January 23 2010
Sunday 24th January 2010
Stoke's FA bug-bears from the 1970's venture back to the Brit for the first time since we beat them 14 months ago. We'd hardly have been top of Wenger's list of prefereed clubs to play in the fourth round, but the Gunners will be the justifiable favourites with a great run in the league that's seen them now join Chelsea and Man U in the race for the title. But this is the FA Cup and the the form book can and does get upset.
You have to be a certain age to remember why to play Arsenal in the Cup means so much to Stoke fans. For two successive seasons in the early 70's we ventured to the heady heights of the semi finals only to be denied by the North London club in the final seconds.
It certainly still rankles with the Potters' chairman, Peter Coates:
Everyone knows how close we went to reaching the Final on both occasions, but a couple of decisions didn't go for us. I'm sure no Stoke City fan will ever forget those games, and I'm hoping things can be put right this weekend.'
Stoke have no new injury concerns with Ab Faye likely to return. James Beattie hasn't trained with the squad this week after failing a fitness test before last week's game against Liverpool, but, despite persistent transfer rumours, may still make the bench.
With the club still failing to tidy up David James' loan move, Thomas Sorensen will get a chance to make amends for some uncharacteristic poor defending that gifted Liverpool their goal last week in the 1-1 draw. The big question is who will play up front? Mamady Sidibe wasn't at his best last week and Ricardo Fuller seems to have been impressing his boss, but (for some unknown reasons) doesn't like starting with Tuncay and Fuller together. That might mean another start for Big Mama, alongside Fuller, so he can pick up those Delap missiles that undid Wenger's men last time they were at the Brit.
The Danish international appears to have committed himself to the Potters in the wake of Tony Pulis' (so far abortive) attempts to bring in David James to add some spice to his keeper selections. If we do eventually land James, Sorensen has made it known that he's ready to fight for his place - as long as the transfer window has shut...
Wenger has his sights on the Premier League cup rather than the FA Cup but don't expect a 'second string' starting line-up to mean that we're in for any sort of an easy ride. Arsenal are the form team at the moment and confidence is high.
The former Gunner has returned after trying out life in the rough and tumble of League 2 for a few days at Notts County earlier this season and he may get his first chance of competitive football back at Arsenal on Sunday. He made 195 appearances over five seasons for the Gunners but we'll have to wait and see if this is just a retirement home for former players or if there is still some life left in the 35 year old.
Monday 1st Feb: Sunderland (away) kick-off: 8pm * ESPN
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Date:Saturday January 23 2010
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