Sunderland v Arsenal
Stadium of Light
On Sunday Arsenal travels the long trip up to Wearside, to play their 58th game in all competitions this season, 18 more games than their opponent, who played the least this campaign compared to any other Premiership team. Even though when Arsenal last visited the Stadium of Light they ran out 3-0 victors, this return will surely rehash gloomy memories for many supporters making the journey again. In what is, in my book, the worst yellow card decision ever, Dan Smith mutilated Abou Diabys ankle. Unlike Martin Taylor, Dan Smith can plead no innocence. It was a premeditated slaughter to a young player who was just finding his stride at the club. Many people, including myself, believe that Diaby would have had a good chance to be a regular in this side if it were not for his extended lay-off. The young Frenchman will not be involved in the activities this Sunday, though he will be celebrating his 22nd birthday. All the best birthday wishes Vassiriki!
Arsenal will not have much to play, third place and the £12.96 million merit payoff is already assured. Arsene is contemplating fielding a even more youthful side than normal, with Nacer Barazite, Mark Randall, and Kirean Gibbs all thought possible squad members. I worry that a too inexperienced side could hinder the team's goal to achieve 83 points for the season. Though on the surface Sunderland too have little on the line, with a win they could possibly achieve thirteenth place and an extra £2.16 million than they would if they lost. After a humiliating performance against Bolton, Roy Keane's side better produce an improved performance in front of the Black Cat faithful.
Arsene has already set his sights on the summer ahead and will rest most of the main men. 'Nobody is coming back from injury certainly. But I could give one or two players an early breather because they go to Euro 2008 or the African qualifiers.'
'So Kieran Gibbs, who got on the bench last weekend, could be involved again, so could Mark Randall.'
He has also been praising the improvement of his side and set his goals for next year. 'This team made 68 points last year and this year 83. That is 15 points difference and in between we lost Thierry Henry and we lost many, many important players during the season. So you cannot say the team has not developed. Now the target for next season must be to make 90 or 92 points.'
Arsene uncharacteristically did reveal some of his summer transfer plans at the Shareholder meeting Wednesday night. 'I will try to buy, maybe in the defensive area and one on the creative side of the game as well because we had some players, important players, who were out this year,' said Wenger. 'We want as well to bring new talent in on the creative side of our game.'
He has not been happy with the defensive side of Arsenal's game this year. 'I must say this year we had among the best attack but we have conceded 31 goals which is six or seven too many,' he said. 'It's as close as that to win the championship. 'We didn't give more goals away than any other team in the League on open play, nor on set pieces, but where we gave more goals away was on direct balls, in the air, through the middle, and most of the time on second balls.'
Roy Keane wants concentration going into the last game. 'There's no time to relax in football and I think one or two of our players relaxed too much, it's something I can't tolerate,' he said. 'Last week's performance was not good enough, you can't keep defending the players and kidding people. I said it after the game and people should not have a problem with it - you are only as good as your last performance.'
Sunderland Team News:
Darren Ward, Phil Bardsley, David Connolly, and Dickson Etuhu will all be missing for the Black Cats, while Andy Cole is rumored to be released soon.
Player to watch: Michael Chopra
The former Newcastle man has been in pretty good form this season with crucial goals against Aston Villa to earn Sunderland their first away win, a last minute stunner to sink T*ttenham on opening day, and most recently two goals in a local derby versus Middlesbrough.
Arsenal Team News:
Cesc Fabregas joins Van Persie, Diaby, Rosicky, Eduardo, and Sagna on the injury list. While Hleb is still suspended, and Flamini surely wont play a part. Adebayor could also be rested, and Rosicky is scheduled to have surgery at the beginning of next week which will count the captain out of the Czech Republic's Euro 2008 campaign.
Player to watch: Theo Walcott
I expect Theo Walcott to cap off a fine end to the season in style on Sunday. His pace will cause all sorts of problems for the Sunderland defense, who have looked shaky at best recently.
Keith Stroud He has refereed six Barclay's matches this season and has produced 17 cards, which is a 2.83 card count per game. He has not been in charge of an Arsenal game this year, but he did ref the Sunderland v. Birmingham game back in August.
3-1 to the away side. Bendtner, Theo, and Denilson to get on the score sheet and Kenwyne Jones to score for Sunderland.