Stadium: Stadium of Light
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Kick-off: 8:30 PM (IST), Saturday, 9th of February
In a clash, which bears much greater significance for the visitors than the hosts, Arsenal travel to Sunderland to take on Martin O’Neill’s men in a bid to gain ground on Tottenham and Everton in the race for fourth spot. With 41 points from 25 games, Arsenal currently sit in sixth spot, one point behind the Toffees, and four behind their London rivals, each of whom have played 25 games as well.
What will be of bother to Arsene Wenger, however, is the fact that his team have conceded first on five of their last six outings on the pitch, although they have lost only two of those five. Steven Fletcher, as always, will carry Sunderland’s most direct threat, while Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, and Lukas Podolski are all in goal-scoring form for the Gunners.
Sunderland: W L W D L
With a couple of much-needed wins in the past few weeks, Sunderland have shrugged off the lull that had descended on the Stadium of Light, pulling 8 points clear of the relegation zone. However, their form has been shaky at best, and overly reliant on the contributions of one or two attacking players, making them a poor team to support this season. This was demonstrated just last weekend when they helped Reading climb out of the relegation zone by falling to a 2 – 1 defeat at their hands, and Arsenal will be hoping for a similar favour from the Black Cats, seeing as they have ground to make up in the race for the final Champions League spot.
Arsenal: L W W D W
With a 5 – 1 demolition of West Ham United, and a determined 1 – 0 win over Stoke City on either side of a 2 – 2 draw against Liverpool, Arsenal have bounced back well from their north London derby loss to Chelsea. While they trail Tottenham by four points in the race for fourth spot, with more points than any of the four teams immediately above them over the past 3 weeks, Arsenal are a good bet to leave the Stadium of Light with the desired result, especially given their opponents’ inconsistent performances. Jack Wilshere put in an incredible shift for England against Brazil in midweek, and could be rested for a portion of this match, while Cazorla who was rested against Stoke City is likely to resume his duties as creator-in-chief.
Sunderland: Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole, Carlos Cuellar.
Arsenal: Thomas Vermaelen, Francis Coquelin, Kieran Gibbs, Lukasz Fabianski, Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey.
While Theo Walcott has been bagging all the headlines, first with his newfound regularity at finding the back of the net, and then with his new contract agreement, fellow attacker, Lukas Podolski, has been silently moving up the number-charts in recent weeks. With four goals and six assists in his last eight games, Podolski now has a total of 8 goals and 9 assists in the league for his new side, quite an impressive record for anyone playing their first season in the English Premier League. The Black Cats would do well to keep an eye out for him.
While Steven Fletcher has been garnering all the plaudits for his clinical finishing, Sessegnon has been working tirelessly behind the former Wolves striker to create the opportunities which have otherwise been few and far in between. Against a defence like Arsenal’s, which seems to struggle at keeping concentration at times, a few well-timed forward runs from midfield could serve this Benin international well, and help him add to his meagre tally of 3 goals this season.
A cagey encounter, with the visitors likely to end up on top. While Sunderland have really got going over the past few weeks, with five wins out of their last nine games, their unpredictable form has seen them lose the other four. The errors that Arsenal have been making notwithstanding, it is quite hard to see where Sunderland’s opportunities are going to come from, while there seems an abundance of firepower for the visitors. Thus, barring a below par performance from the visitors, one would do well to not expect too big a surprise here.