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English Premiership

No respite for Gunners

LONDON, February 22 – Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side have no time to lick their wounds after the shock of being held by League One Leyton Orient in the FA Cup fifth round clash on Sunday.

The cost of competing in four competitions means that games are coming thick and fast for the Gunners and the visit of Stoke City to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday provides Wenger’s players with an early opportunity to return to winning ways.

The manager made ten changes to his side following the exciting Champions League victory over Barcelona but the Frenchman justifiably expected his second string to beat a side from the third tier.

The draw means, however, that yet another fixture must now be squeezed into the calendar, underlying the importance of sticking to Wenger’s strategy to look no further than the next game.

Meetings with Stoke have carried and extra edge ever since City’s Ryan Shawcross’s reckless challenge on Aaron Ramsey left the teenage Arsenal midfielder with a badly broken leg.

And Wenger has never been shy to highlight the two clubs’ conflicting approach to the game, describing Stoke’s direct, physical style as being more akin to rugby on occasions.

There will certainly be little warmth on the touchline between Wenger and his opposite number Tony Pulis and the relationship will get frostier still should Arsenal fail to claim the win that would take them to within a point of leaders Manchester United having played a game more.

A further distraction awaits at the end of the week when Arsenal will attempt to end their five-season wait for silverware by beating Birmingham City in the League Cup final at Wembley.

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But midfielder Alex Song, the only player to start both the Barcelona and Orient games, insists focus is now trained exclusively on Stoke.

"It is not good to have another match (the FA Cup replay) but I am 100 percent sure we will win the game at Emirates," said Song.

"We managed the game well apart from the last ten or 15 minutes. But we need to leave this game because we have an important match on Wednesday. The win is very important for the League.

"It is important just to take the next step. If we win this game we are a point behind Manchester United.

"We are working hard because this year is very important. Everybody has waited for this moment."

Wenger will inevitably make changes with a number of senior players returning to the line-up but his selection will undoubtedly be made with one eye on the weekend.

Stoke negotiated their own League One obstacle last weekend when they progressed past Brighton into the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Pulis’s side have once again impressed this season and currently lie tenth in the Premier League with ambitions to break into the top seven. The arrival of striker John Carew on loan from Aston Villa has strengthened the squad and the Norway international struck his second goal for the club against Brighton.

"Everything is going fantastically for me personally, and for the Football Club," he said.

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"To go out there and do such a professional job was hugely satisfying.

"I feel at home here, the supporters have been fantastic with me and all of the players, management and everyone else at the Club have made me feel unbelievably welcome."

City winger Matthew Etherington is Stoke’s main concern and will face a late test on a back and hamstring problem.

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