The FourFourTwo Preview: Sunderland vs Arsenal
Unlucky Black Cats take on non-threatening Gunners to decide once and for all whose nickname is currently the league's least fitting.
- So’ton 8-0 S’land (Prem)
- S’land 3-1 Stoke (Prem)
- S’land 0-0 Swansea (Prem)
- S’land 1-2 Stoke (LC)
- Burnley 0-0 S’land (Prem)
- Anderlecht vs Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 2-2 Hull (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 4-1 Galatasaray (CL)
- Arsenal 1-1 Spurs (Prem)
Discounting Champions League qualifiers and glorified friendlies (we're looking at you here, Community Shield) Arsenal have won just three games from 12 this season.
A 25% win ratio almost a quarter of the way into the campaign is not quite what was expected in the summer, when Arsene Wenger was splashing out millions of pounds on Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck. But the holes in Arsenal's squad, along with the tears in a variety of players' muscles, have resulted in a less-than-satisfactory start that has some supporters already perilously close to meltdown.
Despite this, and with only two Premier League wins to rub together all season, the Gunners still sit 7th in the table, a mere two points behind West Ham in 4th. Are such numbers indicative of a wider decline in Premier League standards across the board? Perhaps.
Either way, Arsenal's campaign thus far appears a curious mix of both disappointment and indifferent stagnation. They've still only lost one league game, after all, and Wenger for one doesn't seem too worried.
Sunderland haven't beaten Arsenal in the league since 2009 when a solitary Darren Bent goal earned a 1-0 win. An FA Cup win in 2012 was their last maximum return from games against the Gunners, but the Black Cats were beaten fairly resoundingly in both meetings last season, losing 3-1 at home and 4-1 away.
Those seven goals still don't add up to the total number conceded last weekend at Southampton, though, the 8-0 shellacking still ringing acutely in the ears of Sunderland supporters, not to mention Gus Poyet who described the pasting as his 'most embarrassing' moment in football.
"It was the most embarrassed I’ve ever been on a pitch, without any doubt," remarked Poyet post-match, so dazed by the pummelling he somehow forgot that he didn't even play. "Even if you watch that 20 times you do not know how it can happen."
Poyet has, however, promised a response from his players after Sunderland's worst defeat in 32 years. "The players who are on the pitch next week are going to do something about it," he vowed. Now to see if his team can heap further misery on Arsenal.
Sunderland are without Emanuele Giaccherini, Sebastien Coates, Ricky Alvarez and Billy Jones, but they have bolstered their squad somewhat this week with the signing of veteran French defender Anthony Reveillere.
The 34-year-old is well past his prime now having previously been a solid campaigner for Lyon, Rennes and Napoli, where he failed to make an impact, but as an extra body in defence he could be useful.
Arsenal's injury problems continue. David Ospina, Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry, Yaya Sanogo, Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere (suspended) and Abou Diaby (Abou Diaby) are all expected to be unavailable at the Stadium of Light.
Key battle: Vito Mannone vs Danny Welbeck
Mannone joined Arsenal as a 17-year-old from Atalanta back in 2007 and went on to make 23 appearances for the Gunners before joining Sunderland last season. The Italian quickly became a fans' favourite, winning the Supporters' Player of the Year award as well as Official Player of the Year, and gestures like his offer to pay for away fans' travel to Southampton after the 8-0 defeat help explain the amiable keeper's popularity.
Against Southampton, Mannone's long balls to Steven Fletcher were Sunderland's second-most popular passing outlet. You might think this is more indicative of how bad Sunderland were, but hang on. Mannone's passing to and from Santiago Vergini were also the top two passing combos in their last home game against Swansea. Again, you might think this is an indicator of how bad they were. You're probably right.
Welbeck has made a fine start to his Arsenal career, scoring five goals in eight appearances alongside three goals for England. Given the Gunners are likely to create plenty of chances, Mannone will have to be on form to stop Welbeck, who scored six goals in 26 league games for the Black Cats in 2010/11, and his old club.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 4-1 S'land (PL, Feb 14)
- S'land 1-3 Arsenal (PL, Sep 13)
- S'land 0-1 Arsenal (PL, Feb 13)
- Arsenal 0-0 S'land (PL, Aug 12)
- S'land 2-0 Arsenal (FAC, Feb 12)
Wenger turned 65 this week, and while the narrow, late Champions League win over Anderlecht proved a nice surprise gift from his players, the performance did little to mask the growing feeling that his team isn't improving at an acceptable enough rate, if at all. Poyet was still a player at Real Zaragoza when Wenger was appointed Arsenal manager back in 1996, and after losing 4-1 on their last meeting the Uruguayan will be thirsty for revenge.
Facts and figures
- Sunderland have scored 16 OGs since the start of 2010/11, more than any other Premier League side.
- The Black Cats have won just 1 of their last 21 Premier League games against Arsenal.
- Only 2 Premier League teams have kept a clean sheet after conceding 8+ goals in the preceding match (Arsenal in 2011 after losing 8-2 to Man United and Wigan in 2009 after losing 9-1 to Spurs).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
The wounded Black Cats fight hard but lack the confidence and doggedness to grind out a result. 1-2.