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English Premiership

Gunners face Stoke inquest

STOKE, February 26 – Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal can still win the Premier League but that theory is set for a stern test at Stoke City on Saturday.Tony Pulis’s Potters are the type of gritty team that Wenger’s passing purists, who are six points behind leaders Chelsea, seem to find the most difficult to beat.

Stoke have prospered on their long-awaited return to the top flight via a robust style that often features Rory Delap’s prodigious throws into the box.

And they are in form at the moment, with Wednesday’s FA Cup replay victory over Manchester City extending an unbeaten run that dates back to last year.

In addition, Arsenal have not won at Stoke since 1982 and have already lost there this season in the FA Cup fourth round.

Arsenal defender Sol Campbell is unfazed about the prospect of battling with Stoke’s power-houses however and argues that the game is merely one difficult assignment in a series.

"It’s simple, we have to win as many games as possible," Campbell said.

"Other teams at the top will be playing each other, so we just have to look after ourselves and make sure we’re firing on all cylinders.

"Whoever plays must give it everything they’ve got in these remaining games and see where it takes us."

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Campbell is on standby should France international William Gallas fail to recover from a calf injury, although there is another experienced defender in contention in Mikael Silvestre, who was also in defiant mood.

"We’re still in the race and that’s important," he said. "We are nearly in March and that’s when things are going to be decided.

"As long as we are in it, we will fight until the end. We’re going to be ready to face Stoke and get the three points."

Stoke will be without the suspended Abdoulaye Faye but Senegal midfielder Salif Diao has pushed his claim for a start after coming off the bench to score his first Premier League goal in seven years by netting the winner last week at Portsmouth.

Another man who wants a start is former Reading striker Dave Kitson, who came off the bench to score the opener against Manchester City in midweek.

Pulis was satisfied a player who seemed nothing more than an expensive misfit a few weeks ago is now making a contribution.

He said: "We had a good chat a couple of weeks ago after the transfer window and Dave’s come back from the wilderness really.

"We agreed for him to get his head down, work hard and, if he gets his chance, take it. He’s done smashing."

Stoke will play Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter finals on March 7 but Pulis was concentrating only on Arsenal.

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"Let’s get Saturday’s game out of the way first," he said.

"We’re still unbeaten this year. It would be lovely to get through that game still unbeaten, then we can go to Stamford Bridge and give it our best shot."

Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross, who scored his side’s second goal on Wednesday, insists his side deserve to be acknowledged as more than just a long-ball outfit.

"We took our goals well and it shows the calibre of players we have got. Mine was a bit more direct but you have to go for them," he said.

"I think we showed what a good football team we are. We get tagged for kicking and heading it but we have got some very talented footballers, big international players. I think we played some good football."

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