Before the game against Braga I’d said that we were likely to come up against the first parked bus of the season. The visitors proved me wrong on that occasion but it gives me the chance to make the same prediction again. Sunderland will provide us with the first parked bus of the season. Trust me, no one will be happier if I’m proven wrong once again for that will mean we would have won at the Stadium of Light.
Essentially, what I’m saying is that if the Black Cats come and attack us or are as disorganized as Braga were, then we will have an easy win. History of our games against Steve Bruce’s Sunderland, their recent performances, and their games against the other top sides tell us that it will be anything but easy. To me the Mackems are very similar to Birmingham; extremely well organized, hard working, difficult to score against – especially at their home.
Tactically I don’t expect this game to be very different from the ones against Bolton or Blackburn. Sunderland will probably play a little more football than those two, just a little. They’ll hopefully be much less physical; perhaps, less violent is the better way of putting it.
Our last two visits haven’t been pleasant ones. Fabregas salvaged a point with a late, late header a couple of seasons ago, while a Darren Bent strike in the 71st minute gave the hosts a win last year. In that game, Sunderland were able to absorb the pressure as Eduardo wasn’t as effective. It was our first game without RvP and just after an international break. We couldn’t create much and conceded a soft goal. That also broke our 13 game unbeaten run and we lost to Chelsea and City (League Cup) soon after.
I think this year the key difference will be that we have Chamakh in the starting line-up. If they sit deep they’ll be inviting trouble. We also have Arshavin and Cesc in good form and linking up well with the others. That should mean that we will create a lot more chances and work the keeper more than the two saves he had to make last season.
Unlike the other games so far this season, one key difference will be that our midfielders and attackers will have much less time on the ball, particularly in the final third. Sunderland will surely close us down better than the ‘B’ teams; Blackburn, Bolton, Blackpool, and Braga!
That means we will need a high tempo and quick passing. Obviously, this will have to be combined with some sharp off the ball movement. I hope our players will be up for it just two days after a Champions League game. I’m tired of the “not sharp enough” post match comments from Arsene.
Arshavin, in his customary post match interview on his site, said – “Yes, this away game is going to be a difficult one. Last year we lost there. So we have to show our character, we need to win. Now we are going to have 2 rest days in order to restore our strength for this game.”
I’m not sure if it was a two day holiday for the whole team or something’s been lost in translation here. A two day break between games will certainly be an interesting way to prepare for such a game. I would never question Arsene’s decision of training or giving players a rest, but I certainly hope our players turn up and start at the pace we showed in the last game.
The hosts will try to force us wide and limit us to shooting from distance. Of course, good crosses and a couple of stinging shots from distance will help, but breaking down a well organized defence will also require patience and persistence. We need to get in behind their defence and that requires excellent runs and inch perfect balls. Not easy when you’ve a man closing you down all the time. I do hope we get an early goal. If that happens this will be a fantastic game to watch.
I’m keen to see if Bruce starts with two strikers. That could make the game easier for us just as it did against Bolton. Ten men behind the ball is when we struggle the most.
Defensively, this will be a tricky game. Whether they play with one striker or two will not make a big difference to our defence. The problem with Sunderland is that they are a largely harmless side who end up hurting you with an odd chance that they create.
In the game we lost last year I don’t remember them creating much except that goal. Similarly, the year before that, they scored a late goal from a wonder strike. Even this season so far they scored two goals from two shots on target against Birmingham, one from one against Wigan. In both games they got away with a draw even though they were down to ten men.
Our defenders will have to watch out for counter attacks – the quick transition from defence to attack that we saw in patches from Braga, and we will need to be alert on crosses and set-pieces. Last season Bent was unmarked around the six yard box when he scored a scrappy goal. Koscielny and Squillaci did an excellent job of closing down the strikers in the danger areas against Braga and we will need more of the same in this game as well.
As far as the team goes, I don’t expect too many changes. Can Wilshere play three games in a week? Is Denilson fit enough to start? Will Rosicky be picked ahead of Nasri? Those are the only questions that come to mind.
The back four will probably remain the same. Gibbs and Eboue might get the chance in the League Cup on Tuesday. The midfield is also likely to be the same unless Denilson is fit enough to start a game. Up front, we might see Rosicky in place of Nasri as the Frenchman is coming back from an injury and playing him twice in three days might be a risk. Although it’s the kind of risk that Arsene has taken in the past.
I’d like the following line-up,
Almunia – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Rosicky, Chamakh, Arshavin.
On the whole, this game will be a tough one but one that we should win if we want to challenge for the title. A clean sheet would be nice. It’s achievable but we’ve faltered in the past. I think we will score two or three and concede one.