Arsene Wenger says Stoke game is crucial to Arsenal

Arsene Wenger admits that Arsenal's chances of winning the league for the first time in seven years could hinge on tonight's crucial game against Stoke.

Arsenal appeared to be out of the title race when they lost to Manchester United in December, but a run of nine league matches unbeaten has seen the Londoners drag themselves back into the reckoning.

Wenger's side could reduce the gap between themselves and leaders United to just one point with a victory tonight and the Frenchman has called on his squad to secure what he believes could be a decisive win in the title race.

"This is a very important one for us," Wenger told Arsenal TV Online. "The best way to win the Premier League is to win the game. It is only that which is important.

"If you want to keep in touch with Manchester United, which we want more than anything, this game is vital.

"We have given so much in the Premier League, we have gone through so many difficult periods and have come back with such resilience."

Wenger will be without in-form striker Robin van Persie (hamstring) and defender Laurent Koscielny (back) tonight, but hopes the duo will be fit for Sunday's Carling Cup final against Birmingham.

Losing Van Persie is a big blow for the Gunners as he has scored five times in his last three matches, but Wenger hopes that Andrey Arshavin can weigh in with a few goals in the Dutchman's absence.

Arshavin has struggled for form and confidence, but Wenger feels scoring the winner in last week's 2-1 win over Barcelona has renewed the Russian's self-belief.

"I love Arshavin because he's a player who can always give you hope that he can make the difference," Wenger said.

"He was troubled by confidence problems for a while but he is now back and that goal against Barcelona helped him."

Wenger was not surprised that Arshavin had doubted himself, insisting that even the best of players question their own ability from time to time.

Wenger added: "He is a top-level player who lives on success and when it doesn't go for you for a while you question 'What am I not doing right and why?'. Nobody is immune to that.

"I have seen so many big players - and believe me Andrey is one of them - and they all go through periods like that. It is part of being a human being."

Meanwhile, Wenger has confirmed that Aaron Ramsey will return to Arsenal when his loan spell at Cardiff ends this weekend, despite manager Dave Jones' attempts to keep the midfielder until the end of the season.

"I intend to use him," Wenger said. "I have had good reports from Cardiff. He could be available for the second game against Leyton Orient on Wednesday."



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