Arsenal v Sunderland Preview
Sunderland visit TNHOF this afternoon, times changed since the day that the lido overflowed onto the pitch at The Stadium Of Light and Cesc’s Alice Band was not given due credit for its late equaliser.
Some things never change though and the highly strung hamstrings that pervade the squad have had their patience sorely tested, Eduardo’s the latest to succumb – unsurprisingly – to the injustice of it all and he is out after a scoring return, pencilled to reappear at the second leg of the Champions League tie against AS Roma.
Whilst that was a negative, then positives abound with the likely appearance at some point this afternoon of Andrei Arshavin. It seems almost a lifetime away since the negotiations were concluded for his services, so let the hype begin. But not here. Excited, yes; invigorated, yes as with any new signing of substance. Expectant of a starting place? No.
At best, a thirty minute runout, a dazzling hat-trick with a dozen assists but hype, no.
There will be changes to the side that romped home in the FA Cup earlier this week and no doubt some will be preserving their energy for the Roma match next week. Wenger though is in a small quandry; the chance to close the gap to fourth exists through Villa and Chelsea meeting in the lunchtime kick-off. Whatever the result, an Arsenal win will see them closer at the final whistle than they were at the start of the match and the balancing act he has to weigh all of the competitions up.
In goal, Almunia will return and it will be a surprise to see Gibbs retain his place with Clichy having recovered from his war wound suffered in last weekend’s derby. The centre though is a different story. One of Gallas or Toure will make way for Djourou, particularly with the need to combat Sunderland’s aerial abilities. Personally, I think Gallas is still his ‘first choice’ centre back so it is likely that he will be rested for the busy period ahead.
Midfield will more or less pick itself. Eboue is back following his suspension, a not universally option outside of the squad but nonetheless, an option. Otherwise, I would not expect Wenger to juggle too much. Perhaps Nasri may be sacrificed for Gibbs but in the middle there seems little option but for Song and Denilson to continue to build on their solid performances in recent weeks. And that sums up everything before Cardiff; solid. Expansive football was possible in the cup but that was because the Welsh side allowed it. Sunderland will not, setting out to stifle as much as possible. The forwards will doubtless be van Persie and Bendtner, few other options exist for the manager following Eduardo’s withdrawal.
The line-up I would expect to see is:
Almunia; Sagna, Djourou, Toure, Clichy; Eboue, Denilson, Song, Nasri; van Persie, Bendtner
With all Premier League matches at the moment, Arsenal cannot afford to worry about other teams around them. A win is crucial having spurned Villa’s dropped points last weekend. The opportunity is presenting itself for Arsenal to reclaim a top four berth in coming games; they need to take it.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.