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Premier League

Manuel Almunia's future in his own hands says Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger maintains it will be Manuel Almunia's decision whether the veteran goalkeeper decides to stay and fight for his place as Arsenal number one.

The 33-year-old has not played since the defeat against West Brom on September 25 when he sprained his elbow as he saved Chris Brunt's first-half penalty.

An ankle problem picked up while training with the reserves has now sidelined the Spaniard for another three weeks, meaning Polish youngster Wojciech Szczesny could continue in goal against Stoke on Saturday if Lukasz Fabianski fails to recover from a hip injury.

Malaga and Atletico Madrid are both reported to be interested in moving for Almunia in a £1.million deal next month.

Arsenal almost signed Australia international Mark Schwarzer from Fulham during the summer and have also been linked with both Shay Given and Middlesbrough's England Under-21 youngster Jason Steele.

Almunia remains coy about his own future, but Wenger maintains the challenge is there should the veteran shot-stopper want to meet it head on.

"I will listen to Manuel Almunia only," the Arsenal manager maintained.

"We are in a fantastic job, but the core of our job is to fight to be competitive and to fight for your place.

"Nobody can be where we are in such a privileged job and think 'it is a shame we have to compete for our places'. That is the least we can do.

"I am surprised every time a player has to fight for his position that you think straight away he has to leave."

Wenger added: "We want three goalkeepers at the top level and you have seen on Monday night we had Wojciech who made his debut in the Premier League and we had Fabianski on the bench.

"If something happens to one you need three world-class goalkeepers."

Arsenal were beaten 1-0 at Manchester United, but could return to the top of the table with victory against Stoke as all their other title rivals are not in action until later over the weekend - provided the fixtures survive the latest bout of Arctic conditions about to strike the country.

Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner is, though, likely to miss the game as he is imminently set to become a father for the first time.

Captain Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie are all in contention to start after coming off the bench at Old Trafford.

Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross is set to face the Gunners for the first time since his challenge resulted in young midfielder Aaron Ramsey suffering a double leg fracture during the Premier League game at the Britannia Stadium in February.

Ramsey has now recovered full fitness and is currently on loan at npower Championship side Nottingham Forest.

Shawcross, though, can still expect a rough reception from the home supporters - although Potters boss Tony Pulis laughed off suggestions the player will be provided with his own personal security into and out of the ground.

"I can reassure you that will not be needed," Wenger maintained.

"What happened in the past, happened in the past.

"There is no need to add any fuel on it and we just focus on playing football as we always do and respecting our opponents."