This is, more than ever, the business end of the season. There are only three games left in the long grind to the top of the Premier League table for the 2011/12 campaign and while Arsenal are nowhere near the top, there is enough evidence to suggest that with signings like that of FC Koln's German forward Lukas Podolski (a deal still awaiting confirmation by both clubs but popularly believed to have been completed) and Dutch defender Jan Vertonghen, the Gunners could carry their excellent recent form into the next season and announce themselves as serious title contenders for the first time in nearly a decade.
However, what is, for the moment, most important, is to finish the season in third place - to ensure automatic qualification to the Champions League for next season. Arsene Wenger's men are in pole position to do that. The Gunners have 65 points from 35 games so far, three ahead of Newcastle, who have a game in hand but have a vastly inferior goal difference. Wenger will take his team to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, to face a Stoke side 14th in the league and who, traditionally, offer the Gunners a stern test.
"We know what is at stake and we know that Stoke is always a difficult opponent for us. That is why our desire to win this game will be highly needed. Our commitment will need to be 100 percent. They play, this year especially, much more. I have seen some games where they have played really well in Europe as well. Of course the fact they have done so well in Europe shows they can compete with the teams that they play," Wenger said to Arsenal.com.
Stoke have had a fine, if unexpected, run in the Europa League this season, going down to La Liga club Valencia in the round of 32, losing 0-2 on aggregate.
Wenger also admitted goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny would be critical in combating Stoke's long ball approach. According to the club's official Web site, the Pole has claimed 98.5 percent of all the crosses into his box.
"We encourage him to do that and that means he can come out for even more balls because he is successful you want him to be audacious on that side of his game because he can be really good. The timing of his crosses is good and we will encourage him to do it. That will be needed at Stoke," Wenger explained.
Meanwhile, Wenger, in another report on Arsenal.com, spoke on the fitness of several key players who are either recovering from injury or have recovered enough to potentially play on Saturday.
"He is alright. He was sick last weekend. I think he pushed himself very hard to get on the pitch but he has recovered since and should be fit for the game," Wenger said of in-form Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky.
The manager, however, did rule out both French midfielder Abou Diaby and English winger Theo Walcott and said German defender Per Mertesacker while not likely to be fit for the club this season could make it to his national team for the 2012 European Championships.
Finally, Wenger added Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun would be back in the squad but said he would not change much from the Gunners' last game against Chelsea.