Arsene Wenger has described the necessity for squad rotation as "difficult but enjoyable". Arsenal host Stoke City tonight, the first match in a run of five games in 13 days which includes the League Cup final and their return game in Barcelona. While such congestion naturally brings certain problems, it also allows Wenger to use more of his squad and his young players, and is therefore a useful opportunity for the Arsenal manager.
"It is very difficult", conceded Wenger to Arsenal TV online, regarding the club's glut of fixtures, "but it is as well enjoyable because it gives competition to everybody. That is what you want to do as a manager, give everybody an opportunity to show how good he is. It keeps the whole squad focused in so many competitions. There is a real togetherness inside the squad, they fight for places but as well they have a good understanding and a good bond. I believe to have this competition helps."
Selecting a fit team every few days will demand careful judgement from club staff, and Wenger acknowledged doing so would require him to trust his instincts as much as medical analysis. "We study everything we can but in the end your intuition goes with the analysis and you go with what you feel. That doesn't mean you are right but at the end of the day you have to make the decision. Experience helps in that, when you know the players well, how they respond, how you have seen them respond before in similar situations."
Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny are among the Arsenal players who will miss tonight's game, with hamstring and back problems respectively. Another of Arsenal's upcoming fixtures is their FA Cup replay with Leyton Orient, a result of conceding a late equaliser at Brisbane Road last Sunday. Wenger was not too disappointed with the outcome, however, describing it as "part of the beauty of a cup competition in England".
Moreover, the replay will allow Wenger to deploy more players who might otherwise not be starting. Aaron Ramsey, who returns from Cardiff City on Saturday, is in Wenger's thoughts. "He could be available for the second game against Leyton Orient. Yes, I intend to use him. I have had good reports from Cardiff.."
Regarding this evening's opposition, Wenger was complimentary. "They look to be very dangerous, they look to have very good players," he said of Tony Pulis's side. "They have Kenwyne Jones, [Jon] Walters, [John] Carew, [Jermaine] Pennant, [Matthew] Etherington, they have a side who look capable of beating anybody in the Premier League." When asked about Stoke's physical threat, Wenger recognised that it had to be combated. "We have to cope with that, to close them down, to cut the crosses out."
Pulis said that his side will have to play as well as they can to achieve a result: "I can say we're not on their level", he observed, having watched Arsenal beat Barcelona last week. "So we just have to go there and do our best, and that's what we'll do. We have to be switched on. It's a game we know will be very, very difficult, even if we play at our best. If we don't, then we're in trouble". Etherington will be assessed today after injuring his back, while Asmir Begovic may return.
Arsenal's signing Barcelona youngster Jon Miquel Toral Harper is understood to be amicable. The 16-year-old is expected to join Arsenal in the summer but this is no surprise to Barcelona, as Harper's mother is English and his desire to return to England was long-standing. Furthermore, Harper's agent is Pere Guardiola, brother of Pep, the Barca coach.