Sunderland Preview: Mind The Gap
Sunderland arrive at The Emirates this afternoon with Arsenal striving to close the gap at the top of the table to one point. A win combined with Manchester United failing to beat Liverpool will put Arsenal in the driving seat, a game in hand which see them occupy top spot.
But first Arsenal require a win. Sunderland’s recent form is promising in the respect. Since beating Aston Villa on 5th January, they have won once (at Blackpool) which along with the draw in the Tyne and Wear derby, are the only positive results that The Black Cats have had in two months. Arsenal meanwhile go into this game unbeaten in ten Premier League games.
Both sides are suffering up front. Sunderland only have Asamoah Gyan fit, bizarrely selling Darren Bent without having a replacement lined-up, whilst Robin van Persie is likely to be seen next in an Arsenal shirt against Blackburn Rovers.
Arsenal though have options. Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner are vying for the central role, the Dane may have put himself in pole position for that with his midweek hat-trick. He believes that this should the case,
I am roaring to go out and prove my worth. All it takes is match practice to add the final touch, preferably in my favourite position. I play where the manager wants me to but I will not deny that I perceive myself as a central striker
Bendtner’s contribution to the side is often overlooked, disappearing under a welter of criticism because he is playing out of position. However, the last two seasons have seen him contribute to or score almost a goal every other game – 2009-10: 31 apps, 12 goals, 7 assists; 2010-11 24 apps, 9 goals, 6 assists. Not bad for a player who is often the tallest winger in the Premier League or a late substitute.
A run of a few games in the main strikers role might help improve that goalscoring return. Competition comes in the shape of Chamakh whose goal on Wednesday might also be the confidence booster he needs. Physically and mentally shattered by his own admission following an intense start to his Arsenal career, the Moroccan was (unbelievably) written off in some quarters. It is easy to dismiss the changes required for a player to adapt successfully to English football.
One player who has adapted well is Samir Nasri. Already crowned Player of the Season by Rio Ferdinand and Carlo Ancelotti, Nasri has benefitted from being omitted from the French World Cup squad last Summer. For a start, he was not mentally scarred by the abysmal showing. Secondly, he rested and focussed on the coming season, one that has seen him produce consistently sparkling form,
It helped me as a person. I told myself I need to work harder, to make sure I don’t miss the next one. At the start of the season I talked to the boss here and when I came back, I’d had a good rest, I had a normal pre-season, and then I started to play my football and enjoy myself.
Arsenal are certainly benefitting; Nasri is the key player in Cesc’s absence, a significant proportion of the creative play flowing through his boots. He has been helped by the maturity of Jack Wilshere’s play, both contributions should be recognised nationally at the end of the season.
Both will play today, Cesc, Laurent Koscielny and Alex Song will not. All should return for Barcelona but one who returns today is Aaron Ramsey. Perhaps it is too soon for him to start, the Welshman will afforded a great welcome but a place on the bench surely beckons.
The line-up I would expect Arsène to go with is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy; Diaby, Denilson, Wilshere; Nasri, Bendtner, Arshavin
A win is vital; let’s not get bent out of shape if the performance is disjointed. Today is more of a high pressure match than a league encounter with Chelsea, United or Spurs. This is one where Arsenal are expected to win; have to win. This season, the players have overcome the loss of enough players through injury to be confident that they can deliver the required result.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.