Sunderland v Arsenal Preview

Sitting in 6th place in the league isn’t a situation that us Arsenal fans are accustomed to at this time of the year. But with 13 matches left to play, the 4 point deficit to Spurs is by no means an impossible fate to overturn, Wenger believes.

With 41 points on the board, it means Arsenal need to get roughly 30 points from the remaining 39 to get the average 4th place number of points from the last several seasons of 71. However, Arsenal have twice in fairly recent times, clinched 4th spot with just 68 points and with this season being one of, if not the most competitive, it is probably more realistic to estimate us needing around that 68 mark. But this is by no means guaranteed.

With points being regularly dropped by the teams challenging for 3rd and 4th, Arsenal stand as good a chance as any having played more of the ‘big’ teams than the other teams have.

We can afford in theory, to lose 3 games maximum, but as draws are likely it’s more like 2. Yet at the same time it’s important not to lose at Spurs, which will be a ‘6-pointer’.

Sunderland, having started the season reasonably well, found themselves in an early relegation battle. But they seem to have turned the tides and started to move away from this fight in recent matches, picking up some different results; yet they are by no means safe.

Additionally, the Stadium of Light has seen the fewest goals in the league [whereas the Emirates has the most], with Sunderland’s defence playing fairly consistently, with a ‘keeping-it-tight’ game plan seemingly O’Neill’s preferred method of tactics.

Bearing this in mind, Sunderland have seen it necessary to bolster their attacking options, purchasing Danny Graham from Swansea who will face us again, for the third time in 2 months. Along with summer signings, Fletcher and Johnson, and the players they already had, Sessegnon and Mclean.

It will therefore be a game with chances few and far between and Sunderland attempting to keep it solid at the back, while counter-attacking when they can, after breaking down long periods of Arsenal possession. This is what I suspect, and what would happen on paper, but as they say, football isn’t played on paper.

Wenger faces a selection dilemma, should Koscielny fail a late fitness test. With Vermaelen out already, a lack of quality in depth in the central defensive position has been highlighted, with Wenger claiming he will play Miquel, or potentially Sagna, putting Jenkinson out the right. Although with Miquel’s inexperience, and unproven ability, along with Sagna’s poor form in his preferred position, it seems either choice could prove costly.

But what else can Wenger do? He could have bought a centre-back in January, but obviously deemed it unnecessary at the time. This highlights why players such as Squillaci, should just not have been signed. A waste of transfer money, and wages. Not such a wise financial descision. And obviously Santos cannot be relied on. So God forbid either of those should play.

Wenger is hopeful however, that Laurent will pass his test, and any dilemma will be avoided. But only time will tell.

Ramsey has been passed fit, but whether he will play, seems unlikely. Will Diaby or Arteta retain their positions? It seems that Cazorla will regain his starting place, therefore you would assume Diaby will probably make way, unless Wenger decides to rest Wilshere after his ‘burnout’ fears, although that also seems unlikely with a week rest coming up to the Blackburn game, where he will probably be rested anyway ahead of the Bayern Munich game.

Predicted Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski, Giroud.

Predicted Result: Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal.

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