Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday February 21 2014
22nd February, 2014
Arsenal have to lift their heads and refocus their minds after Wednesday night's defeat to Bayern Munich and pick up three very available points against relegation threatened Sunderland.
The Black Cats are a different prospect compared to September when the sides last met. Manager Gus Poyet has slowly breathed life into an ailing squad and the visitors now find themselves in the relegation zone on goal difference only with a game in hand on 17th place West Brom and 16th placed Norwich.
The Gunners will unveil; a statue of Dennis Bergkamp near the Armoury tomorrow morning and will hope that a club legend and one time record signing will inspire Arsenal's current record signing. Bergkamp suffered the same sort of pithy, premature headlines Mesut Özil is experiencing currently and it's hoped (and suspected by yours truly) that he will sweep them aside in similar fashion in good time.
Arsenal have only won one of their last four in the Premier League and need to get back to winning ways. Gus Poyet will hope that the heat of a relegation battle is enough to prevent Sunderland minds from wandering to next week's League Cup Final.
Sunderland have only conceded 3 goals in their last 6 away matches so Arsenal will need to be at their best to break Sunderland down and patience may be required from crowd and team. Three of Sunderland's last five visits to the Emirates have resulted in 0-0 draws.
Arsene Wenger has urged his side to bounce back strongly against Sunderland on Saturday.
''We are playing in three different competitions in one week. It's extremely difficult to adjust every time and it's physically very demanding,' Wenger said.
'We have fought hard so far in the Premier League and of course now we want to come back and win our home game.
"Sunderland play for survival," Wenger said. "They have a cup final coming and they will want to show they can play well so it could go both ways. That is not a reason for us to expect weakness from Sunderland. It can as well galvanise them and give them some special resources.
"Sunderland play quite well [in recent weeks], I must say. Poyet slowly has made an impact in their style of play and confidence level. The recent results show he has had a positive impact. It looks to me they are on a trend that is upwards.
"It is amazing in this Premier League that all the teams you thought a few weeks ago had no chance, [Crystal] Palace and Sunderland, are out of the relegation zone. It shows how tight it all is."
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet considers a trip to the Emirates as the perfect dress rehearsal for next week's League Cup Final against Manchester City.
This is the dress rehearsal. It is perfect. Perfect.
"It is the ideal warm-up game to have before the final.
"Because of the stadium, because of the way Arsenal and Manchester City play, because of the quality Arsenal have.
"That does not mean if we win tomorrow we will win next week - or if we lose we will lose in the final.
"However, I am going to learn a lot. Especially about my players.
"How are they going to play at the Emirates, on a big pitch, with the ball and without it, because the final is going to be very similar.'
"We are going to play our game and play to win.
"It is a great opportunity to see if we can play like that in one of the biggest stadiums against one of the best teams.
"Playing away at the Emirates the week before playing at Wembley is the perfect 'friendly` - even though it is not a friendly!
"It is going to give us a good opportunity to see if we can play in a certain way against sides like Arsenal or City."
Arsenal will be without Kieran Gibbs, who obtained a hamstring injury in the defeat to Bayern Munich. Mikel Arteta returns from a one match European suspension.
Thomas Vermaelen (knee), Theo Walcott (knee), Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Kim Kallstrom (back) and Abou Diaby (knee) are all out.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arteta, Podolski, Wilshere, Özil, Giroud, Chamberlain, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Fabianski, Sanogo, Bendtner, Jenkinson, Gnabry.
Currently giving the Gunners some much needed thrust with Walcott and Ramsey out. His end product in the final third won us the game against Liverpool. That he was selected ahead of Rosicky for Bayern and stayed on ahead of Cazorla when Szczesny was sent off tells you everything you need to know about what Arsene Wenger thinks of Chamberlain.
It's no exaggeration to say that he has suddenly become one of our most important players. He certainly seems to have come of age this season in spite of injury.
Wes Brown is still suspended for Sunderland, whilst Carlos Cuellar is also sidelined by a hip problem.
Steven Fletcher may return from an achilles injury.
Sunderland (from): Mannone, Bardsley, Dossena, Ki, Larsson, Gardner, Fletcher, Wickham, Johnson, Čelůstka, Colback, O'Shea, Altidore, Westwood, Ba, Giaccherini, Vergini, Alonso, Scocco, Borini, Bridcutt, Cattermole, Mavrias.
Not as selfish as he used to be and not as criminally one footed. Johnson seems to have finally been able to harness his talent under Gus Poyet and is unquestionably Sunderland's most dangerous player going forward.
Adam Johnson has scored or assisted eight goals in six PL apps so far in 2014, one more than he was involved in over 2013 as a whole (seven in 35 appearances).
Arsenal have not conceded a first-half goal in their last 10 home matches and have won 6 of those 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.
Vito Mannone and Sebastien Larsson play against their old club.
Arsenal have lost just one of their last 20 Barclays Premier League games against Sunderland (W12 D7 L1).
Sunderland have not won away at Arsenal in the league since November 1983 (Tony Adams' debut), losing 10 of the 14 visits since.
Arsenal have not conceded a Premier League goal at the Emirates Stadium for seven hours and 36 minutes.
All five of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain`s Premier League goals and all five of his Premier League assists have come at the Emirates Stadium.
The referee will be Andre Marriner.
I think this will be tight and nervy and patience will be required, but Arsenal will prevail 1-0 with a late Olivier Giroud goal.
Arsenal are away at Stoke City next Saturday. Sunderland play Manchester City at Wembley next Sunday.
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Date:Friday February 21 2014
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