Club Focus – Stoke City – Pulis vs Wenger: Opposites attack

It is difficult to imagine two football managers more diametrically opposed in their approach than Arsene Wenger and Tony Pulis.

The multilingual “professor,” in his 14th season at Arsenal, has always put the onus on attacking, passing football and the effervescence of youth. Newport-born Pulis meanwhile, is the ultimate pragmatist. The key to his success in inspiring City to punch consistently above their weight has been his belief in hard work, organisation, experience and playing the percentages. Given their uncompromising devotion to styles at opposing poles of the footballing spectrum, it was perhaps inevitable that harsh words should have been traded between Wenger and Pulis during the last 18 months.

This Sunday, hostilities will be resumed in the FA Cup fourth round, with the stakes magnified. With the shock exits of Liverpool and Manchester United, the cup has scarcely seemed more attainable, not just for the giants from N5, but also for a side of Stoke’s magnitude. The Potters will host Arsenal for the first time since an extraordinarily bad-tempered game in November 2008 which left lingering bad blood between the two sides. Wenger’s teams have often struggled against robust, direct teams, and the Potteries club exploited this weakness to full effect. The Gunners had no answer to Rory Delap’s long throws, and the midfielder’s touchline missiles led to two Stoke goals and a famous victory. Yet it was the bruising nature of the encounter which bred resentment between the two bosses. An increasingly violent running battle between Ryan Shawcross and Emmanuel Adebayor saw the man from Togo limp off. Theo Walcott was forced off with a dislocated shoulder following a poorly timed Delap challenged, and Bacary Sagna also left the Potteries as a member of the Gunners’ walking wounded. Robin Van Persie, meanwhile, was sent off for an off the ball assult on Thomas Sorensen.

In the aftermath of the Battle of the Brittania, Wenger was quick to point the finger at what he considered to be Stoke’s “cowardly” actions in injuring his players. An insulted Pulis retorted, somewhat incongruously, by quoting Abraham Lincoln at his Gallic counterpart; noting that the game’s one red card had been shown to an Arsenal player rather than a Stoke one, the Welshman told Wenger: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” The ill-feeling appeared to have subsided by the time a Stoke side celebrating Premier League survival was hammered 4-1 at The Emirates on the final day of last season. Wenger even admirably wrote to the Potters’ boss to congratulate him on completing the London Marathon for charity and provided a signed Arsenal shirt to be raffled off to raise funds for the Donna Louise Trust.

There are signs this season however that the truce is over. The Welshman fired the first shots, accusing Wenger of “moaning like a drain” about the fixture list and of in complaining about the weakened Wolves team selected by Mick McCarthy to face the Gunners’ title rivals Manchester United. Then, just last month, Wenger argued his case for the replacement of throw ins with kick ins in the name of a faster paced game. In doing so, the Frenchman was unable to resist a jibe at Stoke and Delap’s throw: “It is a little bit of an unfair advantage. He is using a strength that is not usually a strength in football.” Even without the added spice of the Pulis/Wenger conflict, the two sides have a long and storied history where the FA Cup is concerned. A generation of Stoke fans will never forgive the Gunners for denying Stoke their best ever chance of major silverware in two consecutive 1970s semi finals. In each game, Stoke lost in controversial circumstances. In 1971, a clear foul on Potters’ goalkeeper Gordon Banks was missed by referee Pat Partridge as Arsenal came back from the dead to earn a replay, which they went on to win. The following year, Arsenal’s clearly offside winner was allowed to stand when the linesman bizarrely mistook a white coated programme seller on the far touchline for a Stoke defender and kept his flag down. The incident has gone down in folklore amongst the Potteries outfit’s long-suffering faithful.

Both teams will be fired up for Sunday’s cup clash. Tony Pulis has traditionally shunned the cups in favour of strengthening Stoke’s league position, but the strong side he fielded for the visit of non-league York City in the third round hinted at a change of heart. He will no doubt be keen to prove a point to Monsieur Wenger. Expect fireworks at a packed Britannia Stadium this weekend, but programme sellers should stay as far away from the pitch as possible.

Both teams will be fired up for Sunday’s cup clash. Tony Pulis has traditionally shunned the cups in favour of strengthening Stoke’s league position, but the strong side he fielded for the visit of non-league York City in the third round hinted at a change of heart. He will no doubt be keen to prove a point to Monsieur Wenger. Expect fireworks at a packed Britannia Stadium this weekend, but programme sellers should stay as far away from the pitch as possible.

Related posts