Arsenal's manager Arsène Wenger will today tell his players not to become obsessed with Rory Delap's long throws or underestimate Stoke City's other qualities at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow. Last season Wenger's team were beaten there 2-1 with two goals from Delap's huge throws and in the FA Cup this season they were overpowered and lost 3-1. At home, however, they have beaten the more fragile Potters 4-1 and 2-0, and Wenger insists his players must stick to their footballing guns while respecting Stoke's improved ability.
"Stoke have scored 15 goals from set-pieces and a big part is long throws but it's a team that plays football as well," he said. "I've seen them recently and they have a good mixture. Technically they've improved tremendously compared to last season. People forget they are well organised and defend very well, not giving many chances or conceding many goals. "
He acknowledged the difficulties of facing Delap on one of the narrowest pitches in the top flight. "The ball comes like an arrow, it's flat, not like a kick. If a striker touches it, it's very difficult. Look at Shay Given [in Wednesday's FA Cup tie against Manchester City]: his own defenders became a problem for him." Wenger's only qualm was Delap being allowed to dry the ball on a towel before hurling it. "Do you add on the time it takes to clean the ball?"
His other minor complaint was about the run of fixtures that put Arsenal up against Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool in the space of 15 days. "That's a little bit unfair because every big game you have so much mental involvement that if you lose, it's so difficult to recover and you are under immense pressure in the next one to do well. We were very low after [losing] the Chelsea game but we managed to beat Liverpool and that was certainly a turning point in our season."
Losing two and drawing one of those games has left Arsenal six points behind the leaders Chelsea and Wenger says: "Chelsea are in a strong position but they have European and Cup games so it will be very tight until the end."