Sunderland’s visit to the Emirates this afternoon provides a welcome distraction from the drama of the midweek European tie in Portugal. The Gunners need to set aside the disappointment of the referee-assisted robbery at the Estadio do Dragão and focus on the task at hand against the Black Cats.
With Chelsea and United playing away from home, it’s paramount that the Gunners keep focus and do a professional job to collect the three points. There’s absolutely no point going on about a favourable fixture list in comparison to Arsenal’s title contenders if we’re not going to do what is required of us.
The reverse fixture at the Stadium of light on Nov. 21, 2009 was the first game without our talisman Robin Van Persie. He had just picked up the horrific injury that has ruled him out for the season while on duty with Holland a week earlier.
Some have suggested that the team was affected by what happened to Van Persie against Italy. A more realistic explanation is that Arsenal have form in producing indifferent performances on away games after lengthy international breaks.
With Sunderland's Darren leaving Arsenal’s noses Bent, today is as good a day as any to rectify the matter and apply pressure on United and Chelsea.
The Black Cats have had a reversal of fortunes since their purple patch when they beat Arsenal and Liverpool and totally bum rushed United to a ’Fergie time’ assisted two-all draw. They’re currently staring at the wrong end of the table, devoid of ideas as to how they can arrest their steady decline into that ’Oh so dodgy relegation zone.
The Gunners will be aware of the need to keep discipline and focus and to approach the game with a no nonsense attitude and determination to bag the three points. The omens look good and despite the injury situation, Arsenal should have enough in the locker to see this game through.
Sunderland have had a dismal record away from home against the big four. Since their most recent promotion to the Premier league, they’ve only picked up three points from draws in 14 matches away from home against the big four.
Arsenal on the other hand have only suffered one defeat at home to an opponent lower than 10th in the league table. This was against West Ham in April of 2007, the first defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners’ record this season at home against the teams occupying the bottom half of the table have been well above average. Arsenal have picked up 2.71 points per game against lower league opposition and have scored 35 percent more goals in these games compared to last season.
With Diaby picking up an inexplicable knee injury a day after the game, my sense is that Wenger will go for a starting line-up of:
Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy
Denilson, Song, Fabregas
Rosicky, Bendtner, Nasri
I would expect that Walcott, Eboue, and Ramsey will make an appearance at some point. Depending on how the game goes, it is feasible that Ramsey might be brought into the midfield and Campbell taken off to give the veteran a rest.
In such a scenario, Song may fall back into central defence, a position he is fairly familiar with. While Mikhael Silvestre is available, Wenger has voiced his hesitation about playing two left footed central defenders in the same game.
Wookash Fabianski will be the subject of the electric eyes following his performance in Porto. I’m still convinced he is a very good keeper and will come good to be one of the best in the business—and today’s as good a chance as any to exorcise the demons from the game against Porto.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
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