The Sunderland game brings along some interesting statistical trivia.
- Arsenal are top of the current Premiership form table (3W, 1D) while Sunderland are rock bottom (4L)
- Arsenal have won just one of the last five meetings with Sunderland (1W, 3D, 1L) but the Black Cats haven’t won away at Arsenal since 1983 (2D, 7L)
- There have been only eight goals in the last six games between the sides
Despite the huge gulf in form I expect this game to be really tight. In fact, given the injuries Arsenal have and the fact that the Gunners have only won four out of twelve meetings with sides in the top half of the table, I’m expecting a draw in this game. Of course, a win is vital not only for the points but also from the confidence point of view. It can be achieved if all the players can perform at their best for the duration of the game.
Sunderland are a very compact team that relies on its ethos of hard work and togetherness. When they are able to play as a unit they are really tough to break down and have caused big teams some serious problems over the last couple of seasons. After the injury to Fabregas, Arsenal were really outplayed at the stadium of light this season.
It will be interesting to see whether the visitors will push forward and press Arsenal higher up or they will sit back to absorb pressure. In the absence of El Capitan the Gunners sometimes struggle to bring the ball out from the back when the opposition puts pressure on the midfield and defence. If Steve Bruce shows some ambition we could see an interesting battle in the middle third. It won’t lead to much goalmouth action so many might find it boring but I like such tussles.
An early goal could open this game up and I’m hoping Arsenal will add to their League-topping 11 goals scored within the opening 15 minutes of games this season.
It’s difficult to pinpoint any defensive weakness in the Sunderland side but off late they have been susceptible to set-pieces and crosses. Not sure if Arsenal can capitalize on that weakness but if Bendtner spends a lot of time in the opposition box he should get a few opportunities to increase his goals tally. Arsenal’s best bet of scoring will come from a moment of individual brilliance.
The defenders will have to be alert as Gyan has the ability to convert half-chances. Sunderland are also quite good at scoring from distance and move the ball better than many other mid-table teams. In the absence of Song the other midfielders will have to track the runs better. Szczesny will definitely be required to make at least a couple of big saves probably from counter attacks.
If the back five do their jobs well and the attackers take a couple of chances I can see Arsenal winning this game but it will be a real surprise if the winning margin is greater than two goals. That would be the best case scenario in my opinion.
Since Arsene was able to rest most of the players the starting eleven should be quite fresh. I expect the regulars to start at the back. In the midfield I’ll prefer to see Denilson and Diaby behind Wilshere. Some might suggest that playing Nasri through the middle is a better option but I prefer to see the Frenchman on the right wing with Bendtner in the centre and Arshavin on the left.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Denilson, Wilshere, Diaby – Nasri, Bendtner, Arshavin.
I feel this side has better balance. If Nasri played through the middle with Wilshere staying deep instead of Denilson, either Chamakh or Rosicky would have to come in to the front three. I think both those players are a bit off form right now and will affect the quality of the attack as well as defence. Denilson might not be a popular player but he can certainly do a job in such games.
That said, I don’t expect Arsene to pick this starting eleven. Wenger will probably go with Nasri in the attacking midfield role.
Ramsey should get a few minutes towards the end as he eases back into first team reckoning.
As I said, while it is quite possible, I’m not expecting a win in this game so a positive result will feel like a big achievement to me. I can understand others might feel a lot more confident but my suggestion is don’t take a win for granted.
Finally, I don’t believe Sunderland are a particularly nasty team but Muntari is one player who worries me. I hope no Gunner is injured in this game.