Arsenal travel to Sunderland on exactly the same weekend that they did last season in the Premier League, looking for points in their quest to finish in the top 4.
Sunderland are boosted by the arrival of Danny Graham on Wearside and have finally found their feet after some indifferent early season form.
Arsene Wenger is aware of the attacking potential Sunderland have to hurt his Arsenal side this weekend, ‘Sunderland have Fletcher, Graham, Sessegnon, Johnson, McLean. They have good offensive potential.
‘We are behind and we have to focus on us to win games. The gap is not too big.’
Martin O’Neill is clear that commitment will be the key for Sunderland, ‘Arsenal have seen the emergence of one or two young players and, especially going forward, they are absolutely excellent.
‘They’re looking to cement that Champions League place again for next season. Walcott is in very fine form. The sheer fact that Arsenal can use him in any number of positions bodes well for them.’
Sunderland Team News:
James McLean looks likely to miss the visit of Arsenal as he aggravated an ankle injury on international duty for the Republic of Ireland.
Martin O’Neill must make a decision on Lee Cattermole, who has been training following a knee injury, but reported discomfort on Tuesday. Carlos Cuellar is in line to return from a hamstring injury too.
Wes Brown (knee0 is a long term doubt, Danny Graham is in line for his home debut following a deadline day move from Swnasea City. Connor Wickham has joined Sheffield Wednesday on loan.
Sunderland (from): Mignolet, Westwood, Bardsley, Gardner, O’Shea, Bramble, Cuellar, Kilgallon, Rose, Larsson, Vaughan, N’Diaye, Colback, Johnson, McLean, Sessegnon, Graham, Fletcher, McFadden.
Player to watch: Steven Fletcher
He’s scored almost half of Sunderland’s league goals this season and has opened the scoring in six Premier League games this year- more than any other player.
Arsenal’s habit for sleepy first halves and Flethcer’s habit for early goals could be a potent cocktail. Especially as Sunderland are hardly likely to give away many chances tomorrow.
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal will give a late fitness test to Laurent Koscielny, who went off with a calf injury for France against Germany on Wednesday. It is understood he did train on Friday.
Thomas Vermaelen (ankle) is still out, but Aaron Ramsey is fit despite being sent home by Wales on Wednesday with a tight calf.
Francis Coquelin (hamstring) is one game away from return, Lukasz Fabianski (ankle) and Kieran Gibbs (thigh) are out, Gervinho is available but will be rested.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Mannone, Sagna, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Squillaci, Monreal, A.Santos, Arteta, Ramsey, Diaby, Wilshere, S.Cazorla, Rosicky, Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski, Arshavin, Giroud.
Player to watch: Jack Wilshere
After a man of the match performance for England against Brazil on Wednesday, all eyes will be on Jack. Away matches after internationals are often fraught with problems, and Jack will need to have the energy to drive the Arsenal team on.
Sunderland will play a compact midfield and Jack will be charged with weaving and ducking his way round them to supply the front men.
Match Facts & Stats
Stephane Sessegnon has been fouled 61 times this season. More than any other player.
Lukas Podolski has taken part in 10 Arsenal goals in his last 8 appearances, scoring four and assisting six.
The teams have played one another 143 times. Asenal have won 54, Sunderland 50 with 39 draws.
Anthony Taylor referees this one.
I think this will likely finish in the sort of 1-1 draw that will hardly have neutrals drooling. Sunderland are an obstinate side and I fancy that Fletcher will open the scoring for them and that Walcott will equalise.
Arsenal play Blackburn Rovers at home next Saturday in the 5th Round of the F.A. Cup. Sunderland are away at West Bromwich Albion in a fortnight.