Flat north-east flappers take on unshakable Gunners brandishing their spanking-new poster boy.
Paolo Di Canio’s tailor is a happier man this season. With almost everything that could go wrong this season doing just that, there’s been a distinct lack of knee-sliding from the excitable Italian three games into the new campaign.
- Crystal Palace 3-1 Sunderland (Prem)
- Sunderland 4-2 MK Dons (LC)
- Southampton 1-1 Sunderland (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Fenerbahce (CL)
- Fulham 1-3 Arsenal (Prem)
Sunderland, nestled unhappily in the relegation zone with only a point to their name, have gruelling work ahead if evidence from their 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace is anything to go by. With 13 new signings to bed in after extensive summer surgery, and 2011/12 linchpin Stephane Sessegnon departed for rivals West Brom, it seems Di Canio’s men are in for a rough ride.
At least Steven Fletcher is back, while big things are expected of American import Jozy Altidore as they both look to improve the Black Cats' dismal goal tally of two.
Di Canio may not be counting on much joy this weekend, though. Heading to the Stadium of Light are an Arsenal side flying high after the deadline-day signing of Mesut Ozil, whose move to Emirates Stadium has caused more giddy dizziness in North London than a little black balloon.
Arsenal have picked up six points from their opening fixtures after seeing off arch rivals Tottenham, and Arsene Wenger’s men will be expected to grab their third win of the campaign here. Given the current mood in North London, they look good value for it.
John O’Shea serves a one-match suspension after his clumsy sending off against Palace, while fellow defender Phil Bardsley is still recovering from a broken foot (though he has been accepted back into the squad after mocking Sunderland's opening-day defeat to Fulham).
Lee Cattermole (knee), Craig Gardner (groin) and Connor Wickham (knock) are also set to miss out, but Wes Brown (knee) is on the mend and could soon return having made his last appearance for the club back in January 2012.
Leading the Premier League’s injury table (again) are Arsenal, whose eight injuries to first-team players had left Wenger sweating before Ozil’s arrival. Thomas Vermaelen (back), Abou Diaby (knee), Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky (both thigh), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) and Lukas Podolski (hamstring) all remain sidelined, while Theo Walcott (ankle) picked up a knock on international duty in Ukraine.
Key battle: Modibo Diakite vs Olivier Giroud
Summer import Diakite has slotted straight into the heart of Sunderland’s defence and impressed last time out against Palace with 13 successful clearances – second only to Danny Gabbidon’s mammoth 19.
The former Lazio man will have his work cut out against the in-form Giroud, though, especially in the absence of usual partner O’Shea. Giroud was colossal in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Spurs, grabbing the winner (his third league goal in as many games) and holding up the ball magnificently as the Gunners’ lone striker up front.
Arsenal are open to using their French talisman direct (his 15 long balls received from Wojciech Szczesny made the pair the third highest pass-combination of any duo against Spurs) – and that means an inevitable aerial workout for Diakite at the Stadium of Light.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal (Prem, Feb 13)
Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland (Prem, Aug 12)
Sunderland 2-0 Arsenal (FAC, Feb 12)
Sunderland 1-2 Arsenal (Prem, Feb 12)
Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland (Prem, Oct 11)
It’s the first-ever meeting between Wenger and Di Canio as managers in the Premier League – but they didn’t go without their share of ding-dongs while the latter was still a player.
It was against Arsenal in September 1998 when the Italian put referee Paul Alcock on his backside
while playing for Sheffield Wednesday. Then after joining West Ham the following campaign, potty Paolo was accused of diving to get Patrick Vieira sent off at Upton Park – but not before doing this
(twice). "It was cheating by Di Canio," moaned Wenger. Fourteen years on, he may be forgiven.
Facts and figures
- Sunderland have taken just eight points from their last 17 Premier League games against the Gunners.
- Olivier Giroud has scored in three successive league appearances, but has not scored in any of his 14 Premier League goals outside of London.
- Jose Reyes (in 2004/05) scored in each of Arsenal’s opening five Premier League matches.
- Arsenal have scored in eight successive games in the competition; the longest-such current run in the Premier League.
- Mesut Özil has registered 72 goal assists in the last five seasons - more than any other player across Europe's top five leagues.
- The last six Premier League matches at the Stadium of Light have produced just nine goals.
- Sunderland have won just one of their last nine home games against Arsenal in the Premier League (D3 L5).
- No-one has created more chances than Santi Cazorla (10) in the Premier League this season.
- Only Fulham (21) have allowed their opponents more shots on target this season than Arsenal (17).
- Arsenal have already conceded two goals in the final 15 minutes of Premier League games this season; as many as they conceded in this period in the whole of 2012-13.
- Nine of Steven Fletcher’s 12 Premier League goals for Sunderland have come away from home.
Ozil probably won’t start after only joining up with Wenger’s men in midweek, but Arsenal have the firepower to ensure Sunderland’s miserable run continues a little longer. 2-0.