The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Sunderland
A potential hangover cure for the Gunners.
It may be tempting to suggest this is exactly the kind of fixture Arsenal need after their harrowing defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich, but in fact that's probably a long way from the truth.
- Arsenal 0-2 Bayern (CL)
- Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (FAC)
- Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 So'ton (FAC)
- S'land 0-2 Hull (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 Kidderminster (FAC)
This is, in many ways, an even higher-pressure fixture than their midweek Champions League showdown. There can be no excuses - if the Gunners want to win the title, this is the kind of match they must win. The discontented murmuring that greeted the recent goalless draw with Manchester United would be nothing compared to the reaction should the north Londoners go three league matches without a victory.
The pressure will be on playmaker and club-record signing Mesut Ozil more than most, with the German currently suffering something of a mid-season slump. There is mitigation - this is, of course, his first season in the Premier League, and his first without a winter break - but there must still be some concern he isn't dominating matches anywhere near often enough.
Saturday's match provides him with another chance to do just that, but the bad news for Ozil and Arsenal is that Sunderland are far more resilient than they were in the early months of the season. The Wembley-bound Black Cats have lost just three times in their last 16 matches, and have only conceded three goals in their last six Premier League away fixtures.
For what it's worth, Sunderland also have recent form when it comes to frustrating the Gunners in their own back yard, with three of their last five visits to the Emirates Stadium ending 0-0.
Kieran Gibbs lasted just 31 minutes against Bayern before injuring a hamstring. The Gunners will also be without longer-term absentees Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Theo Walcott (knee), Kim Kallstrom (back) and Abou Diaby (Diaby). It is unclear whether Olivier Giroud will miss out again with a bruised ego.
Wes Brown is still suspended for Sunderland, while fellow defender Carlos Cuellar remains sidelined with a hip injury. Steven Fletcher may return from an Achilles injury, having sat out the previous two league outings.
Player to watch: Vito Mannone (Sunderland)
Sunderland have enjoyed two notable away victories in recent weeks - the surprise Boxing Day win at Everton and the 3-0 romp at Newcastle. In both matches, they've relied on a comprehensive and composed performance from their goalkeeper - he made 8 saves at Goodison, and 9 at St James' Park.
On Saturday, the Italian will return to the Emirates for the first time since his departure in the summer. Mannone was a figure of fun in north London after a clutch of memorable clangers - including against Olympiakos in the Champions League - but he's already edging towards cult hero status on Wearside. His saves in the League Cup semi-final penalty shootout win over Manchester United saw to that. Now he'll be looking to cause Arsene Wenger some grief (perhaps not for the first time...).
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S'land 1-3 Arsenal (Prem, Sep 13)
- S'land 0-1 Arsenal (Prem, Feb 13)
- Arsenal 0-0 S'land (Prem, Aug 12)
- S'land 2-0 Arsenal (FAC, Feb 12)
- S'land 1-2 Arsenal (Prem, Feb 12)
Gus Poyet has previously tested his managerial mettle against Wenger just the once, in the fourth round of last season's FA Cup. Walcott's late strike gave the Gunners a dramatic 3-2 victory over Poyet's Brighton side. Poyet's playing record against Wenger's Arsenal is also poor - he didn't win any of his 11 matches against the Gunners during his time with Chelsea and Tottenham, despite scoring three goals.
Facts and figures
- Arsenal have not conceded a first-half goal in their last 10 home matches and they’ve won 6 of these matches 2-0.
- Arsenal have won all 10 of their home games against bottom-six teams since the start of last season, including 8 wins by at least 2 clear goals.
- Sunderland are unbeaten in 6 away matches – the only other time they went this long without defeat on the road in the Premier League they lost their next away game 5-0.
- 8 of the last 11 meetings between these teams have had fewer than 3 goals.
A tight and tense match, but the visitors - with one eye on Wembley - will eventually be breached. 1-0 Gunners.