Stoke City could be excused for not taking Sunday’s home game with Arsenal as seriously as most Premier League matches this season.After all, the Potters will be six days from the club’s most important match in their history – their first FA Cup final appearance.
Stoke’s date with Manchester City at Wembley next Saturday will surely be preying on the minds of Tony Pulis’ men as they tackle an Arsenal side with plenty of end-of-season motivation.
Stoke, in 10th place, have little to play for in their remaining three league fixtures except pride.
After Arsenal, they can exact revenge (or better still, rub salt in the wounds) when they play City at Eastlands two days after the Wembley showdown.
They then finish their season at the Brittania Stadium against Wigan Athletic on May 22.
The possibility of playing in a major European competition for the first time since 1974 will certainly be at the back (or front) of Stoke’s minds on Sunday against the Gunners.
But Arsenal will still have to be wary of City, especially up front where Kenwyne Jones and Jon Walters have formed a strong partnership.
Walters and Jones are the club’s joint leading goalscorers this season with 11.
The pair have scored eight goals between them in City’s last seven games to help the forward line through an injury-hit spell.
Ricardo Fuller is out for the season after rupturing his Achilles at Aston Villa a fortnight ago.
And Jon Carew only returned to action at Blackpool last weekend after being on the sidelines for seven weeks with a back problem.
Carew’s return gives manager Tony Pulis a welcome option up front, particularly as Matthew Etherington is in doubt with a hamstring injury.
Arsenal, in third place, six points adrift of Manchester United and three behind Chelsea, would have been buoyed by their 1-0 home win over the league leaders last Sunday.
With a Champions League spot guaranteed next season, Arsene Wenger’s side may also have their foot off the pedal, but it’s unlikely the Frenchman will be encouraging a lacklustre performance.
After a series of draws in their recent 16-match unbeaten run, the Gunners will be aiming to cement third place and quash any late rush by Manchester City.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal’s goalscoring hero against United last Sunday, is in line to start at the scene of his worst nightmare.
The 20-year-old midfielder suffered a horrific double leg fracture in a challenge with Ryan Shawcross, the Stoke captain, on 27 February last year that put him out of action for nine months.
It will be the first time Ramsey has played against Shawcross and Stoke since the fateful game but not the first time that the defender has played against Arsenal.
He was barracked by the Emirates crowd during his team’s 1-0 defeat on February 23.
“I got booed and abused when I went there and it didn’t really affect my game,” Shawcross said.
“If anything, it spurred me on to play better. I’m sure I’ll get more of the same this time but I’ll be able to deal with it.”
“Our fans and players love putting one over on Arsenal.”
“There’s a bit of rivalry there because of past games and the fans will be as loud as they always are when Arsenal come to the Britannia.”
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas has already been ruled out, but Thomas Vermaelen could start his first match since August 28, following a long-running absence caused by an achilles problem.
Abou Diaby, the midfielder, continues to struggle with the calf issue that he suffered at Tottenham Hotspur on April 20.