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Arsenal-Stoke City Preview
By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - The race for third place in the Premier League has intensified for Arsenal as they make the treacherous trip to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City on Saturday.
Chelsea's surprising passage into next month's Champions League final against Bayern Munich have given the Blues a chance to qualify for that competition next season as the holders. That would be at the expense of the fourth-placed side in England.
Arsenal are in third place on 65 points - three ahead of Newcastle United. The Magpies have a match in hand while the Gunners have a comfortable 13-goal margin in goal difference.
Arsene Wenger's side have earned one point in their last two matches, a 2-1 loss to Wigan Athletic on April 16 and last Saturday's scoreless draw with Chelsea.
"They were really good chances to put ourselves into third place comfortably. At the moment we still have to fight for third place," Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen said.
"It is not going to be easy, but that is because you play in England and it is not an easy league. Everybody can beat everybody ... It is going to be tight, but it is going to be interesting."
Stoke City play three of their final four fixtures at the Britannia, where Arsenal have stumbled in the past. The Potters have won three of the last four visits by the Gunners in all competitions, including a 3-1 win in the 4th round of the 2010 FA Cup.
Tony Pulis's side have earned 10 points our of their last four home fixtures in the league.
"I think it is fair to say that most teams struggle with the physical side that Stoke have," defender Carl Jenkinson told Arsenal's official website. "It is something we have to be aware of and it is no surprise anymore, everybody knows how Stoke play. They are a big, strong and physical side but we are prepared for that, know what is coming and just have to deal with it as best as we can."
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 3-1 at the Emirates on Oct. 23. Robin van Persie scored twice, but the league's top scorer has struck just once in his last seven matches to allow Manchester United's Wayne Rooney to move within one of his total of 27 Premier League goals.
The Potters, meanwhile, are eyeing a top-half finish in the table.
"Finishing in the top half is definitely doable, given the fact that three of our last four games are here at the Britannia Stadium," winger Jermaine Pennant told Stoke City's official website.
"We feel that all three games are winnable, especially given our record here in recent months."
Stoke did Arsenal no favours with a 3-0 loss to Newcastle last Saturday. Jonathan Walters has gone 10 straight matches without scoring in all competitions for the Potters, who feature the Premier League's worst attack with 32 goals.
Updated April 26, 2012