Sunderland Preview: Long Winding Road To The Top Four Continues

Twelve months ago, Arsenal left Wearside with three points thanks to Thierry Henry’s final Premier League goal for the club. No such heroics from the club’s record scorer this time around but injuries at the back mean that the team will need to ensure that they have their shooting boots packed. Thomas Vermaelen was apparently well enough to train this week with his national squad, well enough to knacker his ankle that is. International football has a bad press when it comes to friendlies and incidents such as this do it no favours with the club. Solving the problem is quite simple for Fifa; tweak the rule on injuries to allow clubs the final say on player fitness when it comes to the mid-season non-competitive matches. Presuming of course, that they won’t do away with them altogether. Which they won’t.

As it is, ArsΓ¨ne was relieved to find that Laurent Koscielny’s injury was not as bad as first feared, leaving the French international in contention for a starting line-up spot. With the alternative being Sebastien Squillaci, it would come as no surprise to learn that the manager had been invoking all manner of pagan rituals and black magic in order to make sure the younger of his compatriots passed his fitness tests. Squillaci might not make the XI at kick-off, indeed I wonder if he will make the bench with Ignasi Miquel surely a better investment?That Wenger did not mention the more experienced player as an option for today tells you all that you need to know.

Surprisingly (and yet not so), the manager is considering sending Andre Santos to Gremio on loan, willing to take the chance on the fitness of Kieran Gibbs as back up to Nacho Monreal. Well, I presume that to be the pecking order which reflects positively on the Spaniard’s debut against Stoke City. With Johan Djourou having already departed for the Bundesliga, it would leave a shortage in numbers in the back four but for the player’s sanity, it is a good move. Such activity suggests a firm commitment on the part of Wenger to resolving the defensive problems which have beset the team this season. They are not the fault purely of the Brazilian with some of the worst mishaps coming when he was injured; it does reflect on his diminishing confidence.

That said, football is about now, with barely half an eye cocked ahead. And a win now, will take Arsenal in the top five especially with Everton’s trip to Old Trafford tomorrow. Arsenal arrive at the Stadium of Light with one defeat from the last six Premier League trips whilst their hosts have lost five of their last ten home games in all competitions; Arsenal are not the only team who can find matters difficult in front of their own supporters. Goals have been hard to come by with Sunderland ‘enjoying’ the lowest number of goals in home Premier League matches. Typically of Martin O’Neill’s teams, they are hard-working and, well, that’s it really. They huff, puff and whilst struggling to blow others houses in, ensuring that other teams struggle to pierce their defence. To put it into context, Arsenal have scored more goals on their travels whilst conceding fewer than Sunderland. I would not expect a festival of goals this afternoon.

And that is not really important either; Arsenal scoring one more than their hosts is all that matters, taking the three points into a mini-break from domestic league fixtures. Ahead lie the differing tests offered by Blackburn and Bayern Munich. The three Premier League matches in February are ones that the team ought to be winning, must be winning if they have genuine pretensions for participating in the Champions League. Defeat would not end those aspirations, it would put more pressure on winning at White Hart Lane than exists currently; that would then become a must-win game. I’m getting ahead of myself there though, that encounter is a few weeks away.

For today, I would not expect many changes from last week’s win over Rugby Union, beyond the return of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski.Β  Previously we might have seen Giroud drop out of the side for this trip but the value of a strong central striker is shown with possession retained more readily with the Frenchman’s aerial ability, as opposed to Theo Walcott’s reliance on pace. Make no mistake, that will be useful with Sunderland playing more expansively than the defensive ploy adapted at The Emirates earlier in the season. Mind you, this is Martin O’Neill we are talking about so the Black Cats sitting back, stifling the life out of the game with no ambitions toward winning cannot be ruled out entirely.

The line-up I expect is:

Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Miquel), Monreal; Cazorla, Wilshere, Arteta; Walcott, Giroud, Podolski

As much as Wenger might want to nurse Jack Wilshere through the season, he is in top form right now and with a clear week before next Saturday’s FA Cup tie, the England youngster can rest. Indeed he might miss that match, having a clear ten days before the visit of Bayern Munich to The Emirates. As it is, I think he will play with Abou Diaby making way although his inclusion ahead of Podolski, shifting the team into more of a 4-5-1 formation cannot be ruled out.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

429 thoughts on “Sunderland Preview: Long Winding Road To The Top Four Continues

  1. Looking forward to the Mancini post match interview. No controversy and no dodgy calls from the ref apart from a foul from Yaya which could have led to a Southampton penalty. Mancini’s boys were just crap tonight and Southampton fully deserve it if they win this. Man City could still nick something with 5 mins of added time though.

  2. does sagnas display today give any evidence that he has to stay beyond the summer?

    if the last 5 years havent been enough already..

  3. JJ

    I thought it was interesting that there are two feature stories on the Arsenal website from Sagna. One talking about Wilshere and one about Sagna’s desire to get back to his best.

  4. JJ

    I think we need a FB for now and one for the future on both sides of the pitch. Gibbs/Monreal on the left and Sagna/Jenks on the right. If Sagna goes we will have to buy another experienced RB in the same way that we went for Monreal when it was clear Santos wasn’t good enough and Gibbs had picked up another injury.

  5. i think our FB personel is just fine now and le coq can fill in as well as rambo πŸ™‚

    santos was the problem but hes not anymore so as far as fb’s go id have said its the strongest area of our team these days but that could be different come the summer and it would be a real dissapointment if we are looking for a new RB..

  6. Bob – Several mate but with the snow storm they are mostly closed. The 2 that are open are just far enough away to beat temptation. Plus liquor stores are closed on Sundays in NY. Stupid rule I know but whadayado? Local grocery store only has Corona, Bud, Bud Lite (Diet Piss as it’s known) Miller lite, El Presidente (Don’t ask and yes it is that bad!) Colt 45 (see El Presidente) Cobra (even the homeless think twice about this one). So not great selection. Pity there is such lousy weather here, as I would gladly drive out to Long Island where there is a massive warehouse full of every kind of drink you could possibly want. Very decent prices too.

    Well done the Saints and congrats to Utd on yet another title. I hate them but got to respect 13 PL titles.

  7. Just watching some highlights on RTE2. Jack wasn’t injured. His body language looked like he was saying get me off before these feckers maim me.

    At first the Monreal challenge looked like a pen. On replay a blatant dive. Excellent call ref.

    Wenger clearly mouthed the words “What the f**k is that?!” when Giroud shot near the end πŸ™‚

  8. podolski and rosicky definately playing against blackburn in the FA cup i reckon, so will the OX

    midfield should be:






    I think Arteta, wilshere and santi will be saved for Bayern munich

    maybe Arteta will stay in but i expect some rest for players so they are 100% against Bayern

  9. Irish

    Presidente is not that bad mate. I had to drink it for 3 months while on contract in the Caribbean..

  10. Nice gutsy performance. Good to leave with the three points.
    2nd place only nine points away which can be done.
    Taylor let them foul JW over and over. They finally kicked him out of the game with injury. I counted a least five wild challenges from catmold alone. And yet CARL committed two or three foul and is sent off with two yellow Cards. They won’t even let us defend ourselves. Anyway we have to get more clinical in front of goal. This game could very well have been put away at halfway mark. Come on AARON. I’m looking at you man. WOJO AND BACARY did all of US proud.
    UP THE ARSENAL!!!!!!

  11. IRISH
    Are you still locked up? I mean holed up?
    It’s a cold 58 Fahrenheit here , thirty five at night berrrrrr ,

  12. Just seen Chris Foy on TV refing Bolton v Burnley. Was he demoted to the championship after last weeks match?

  13. A fighting win. Apart from Ramsey, our midfield had a good game with Wilshire as the driving force. Nacho was skinned by Sessegnon on a couple of occasions. Other than that he had a good game. Looks to be a good buy by AW. Overall, very pleased about a good performance.

  14. heh i spoke to my mate today, hes a united fan. He commented upon all the yellows and reds arsenal has recieved this season and said:” that is so weird, because Arsenal is not a dirty team, how come they are so high in the list?”

    He is not only a United fan he is a footy maniac so saw the game in replay this morning, which lead him to say. “watching the game it is incredible that Arsenal got the red card, especially when you see the way Sunderland plays.”

    I cannot but agree with him. Jenks did ofc invite that one in, being incedably clumsy and doing naive and stupid tackles when the ref could see it.

    It is still a wonder that a team like arsenal has so many cards this year. Especially since we all seem to agree on the fact that the refs are neutral and that they do not give preferential treatment to anyone.

    We got 3 red cards this year while a club like United has non.
    In comparasion we got 24 yellow cards while United has a staggering 43, thats only 6 less than Stoke that has 49 and alot more than sunderland.

    statistically united should altest have 2 red cards but their playes never get sent off. And their yellow card statistics shows they are no angels.

    Last year arsenal ened with 64 yellow cards and Stoke with 61??
    So that means we were a dirtier team than Stoke last year. does that make any sense?

    something is not right when it comes to “splashing the yellows”…

  15. that said, we did won a match while we at the same time managed to rest important players such as Poldi, OX and well, everyone that was on the bench xcept miquel.

    Nice πŸ™‚

    we got fresh and ready to run quality coming on for the blackburn match.

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