Arsenal v Stoke City: Early team news on April Fools match but joke could be on Arsene Wenger if Gunners falter again
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Arsenal entertain Paul Lambert’s Stoke City on Sunday lunchtime, but with the first leg of the UEFA Europa League quarter final a week on Thursday, boss Arsene Wenger may rotate his side.
The match is scheduled for a 1.30pm kick off on April Fools Day but the joke may be on Wenger if his team can’t pick up three points to keep ahead of seventh-placed Burnley who are breathing down their necks.
It promises to be a tough match as Lambert’s team are mired in the relegation places in 19th position and will be scrapping for their lives.
However, as Arsenal are a whopping 13 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for a Champions League qualification spot for next season, the Europa League offers the best chance for a berth in the continent’s premier competition – despite Wenger previously refusing to countenance such a notion.
The long-serving Frenchman rotated his squad for the 3-0 league victory over Watford, and injury worries over Jack Wilshere may result in Wenger fielding a similar side.
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Stoke, who sacked boss Mark Hughes after a poor run of form, still have the memory of their 1-0 win over an insipid Arsenal side back in August in their hunt for a much-needed three points in the scramble to stay afloat.
PSG loanee Jese scored on his debut which, remarkably, remains his only goal in a disappointing season.
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Arsenal, for their part, are desperately hoping Wilshere will return to action at the Emirates, after missing out an England return against Holland and Italy due to a minor knee injury.
Speaking on Friday morning in place of Wenger who was ill, Bould said: “Jack had a bit of a knee problem, he has come back and is fine,” said Bould.
“As far as I’m aware, there is no issue [with England].”
Laurent Koscielny played the whole of France’s 3-1 win against Russia on Tuesday, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles will be given more time to see if he recovers from a muscle strain.
In good news for the club £53 million summer signing Alexandre Lacazette is set for a return after taking part in full training.
Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf is to rejoin the squad after a shoulder injury while Stephen Ireland will undergo a later fitness test on a calf complaint.
Charlie Adam will serve the first of a three-game ban for a reckless challenge on Wayne Rooney in their previous game will Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Geoff Cameron and Lee Grant remain sidelined.
With Wenger under pressure after another disappointing league season speculation is rife about the Frenchman’s future.
But Bould backed his boss saying: “I admire him immensely.
“He takes unbelievable stick off a lot of people but he is one of the great managers and it is a pleasure to sit next to him.”
Despite perceptions Stoke seem to get the better of Wenger’s Arsenal the statistics don’t back that up.
Of the 106 matches played between the sides in total the Gunners have won 56 times, with the Potters triumphing with 26 wins and 24 draws.