Stadium of Light, Wearside
September 14, 2013; 15:00 BST
The international break is never welcome and it’s almost impossible to predict even the most in-form teams after the internationals. But Sunderland and Arsenal look to be heading in different directions entirely, one climbing the ladder nearing the top places, while the other getting sucked into the black hole at the bottom of the table. Different ambitions, different priorities and complete different outlook to both after 3 matches a piece. The transfer market is finally shut and all the talk will now be restricted to on field incidents and performances from here on. Sunderland welcome the Gunners to one of their less favourite places, the Wearside.
The mood at Arsenal has metamorphosed into a state of excitement and expectancy since the deadline day signing of Mesut Ozil. He was joined at the club by Emiliano Viviano, a goalkeeping backup to Szczesny. With 4 wins in their last 5 matches, Arsene Wenger would be hoping to get maximum points on their trip to the Stadium of Light, where Paolo Di Canio will await. With a vareity of signings to boast of the Italian manager needs to be able to form a team out of his squad and the performances thus far only hint at a overhaul sooner rather than later. The fact that Sunderland have got just 1 point against 3 teams who are more than certain to finish bottom half, must be a worrying sign for the Sunderland boss. Singing Borini and Ki adds depth to a side that seems to be lacking an identity at the moment.
Arsenal have European commitments in midweek and this could see Arsene Wenger give a second thought to his starting lineup and Sunderland must do their best to exploit any such inhibitions. The clash of these 2 sides at the Stadium of Light has produced some brilliant drama in the past few seasons with Darren Bent scoring a late injury time equalizer to Thierry Henry’s late winning goal on his return to the club. This match might not produce similar levels of drama but should provide for a good spectacle among two teams who like to play attacking football irrrespective of the outcome. Arsenal might be the favourites but Sunderland and Di Canio can surprise them and this could be a much tighter affair than most predict.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Paolo Di Canio has a new looks squad to make his team selection from for Saturday’s match and luckily doesn’t have to deal with any fresh injury concerns. In fact Steven Fletcher who was injured before coming off the bench and scoring against Crystal Palace is now fit and ready to start. Di Canio signed a host of Italians including Dossena and Borini who might both start from the bench with Colback starting at left back and Fletcher playing as the lone man up front.
Westwood will start in goal again with Mannone warming the bench. Celustka will start as the right back who will be assigned to keep a check on the floating Santi Cazorla. He will need to be assisted by Diakite, who has been impressive so far in his Sunderland career but would be without his partner in crime John O’Shea after the former Manchester United was sent off 2 weeks back against Palace and will remain suspended. Carlos Cuellar will replace him in the starting lineup. Di Canio however will have to fix his midfield problems and needs to be spot on with his tactics.
So far Sunderland have tried to play an attacking 4-4-2 which often transpires into a 4-2-4 with both Johnson and Giaccherini bombing forward in attack and this is something Di Canio wil look to avoid when they take on the Gunners. Arsenal have 3 creative outlets in Wilshere, Ozil and Cazorla and if given too much time or space the home side will be punished before they know it. This is one reason Ki might be preferred to a second striker in Altidore or Borini and shore up the midfield which runs the risk of getting overrun. However it is on the wings that Sunderland have their best attacking outlet with Giaccherini and Johnson looking to feed Fletcher taking advantage of the out of place Arsenal fullbacks.
Probable Starting XI [4-4-1-1] : Westwood [GK]; Celustka, Diakite, Cuellar, Colback; Johnson, Larsson, Gardner, Ki, Giaccherini; Fletcher
Arsene Wenger’s side can’t seem to catch a break with injuries, the latest victim being Czech star Tomas Rosicky who was taken off injured against Italy and has now been ruled out for the weekend trip to Wearside. However Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere have recovered completely from knocks picked up during England’s visit to Ukraine. Also the Gunners are boosted by the news of Thomas Vermaelen returning to training after being on the sidelines for more than 2 months now. Podolski and Chamberlain continue to be on the sidelines while Mikel Arteta is expected back by the end of the month. Bacary Sagna who missed the North London derby due to illness will also slot straight into the starting lineup.
The starting lineup however will cause a lot of anxiety among fans, who would be holding their breath to find out if the club’s biggest ever signing Ozil is a given a starting role. Gunners boss Wenger would have liked to introduce the German international slowly to the big bad world of the Premier League but Rosicky’s injury could see the new #11 start on Saturday. Flamini’s performance against Spurs could tempt Wenger to start with the Frenchman in midfield and any such event will open a new can of worms for the manager who will need to make some brave decisions and with half an eye on the trip to Marseille, one of Wilshere or Ramsey might well and truly be rested after being omnipresent in the side.
The Gunners will be favourites and with numerous players looking to find Giroud and Walcott behind the Sunderland defensive line, there will be no shortage of attacking threat. Ramsey has found a new lease of life in the deep midfield role and is now starting add goals to his game as well, providing a new angle to the Gunners attack. If Ozil starts, Gardner will need to be at his very best to keep the German international quiet and combined with Cazorla in a free role on the left, he will have his hands full. Having pulled the plug on Bendtner’s move on deadline day, there’s a good chance Wenger might give the Dane another chance to prove himself, albeit from the bench.
Probable Starting Line-Up [4-2-3-1]: Szczesny [GK]; Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Ramsey, Wilshere; Walcott, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud
- Since Jan 1, 2013, Arsenal have won 46 points in the league, the highest in the English league .
- Arsenal have not lost an away game in the league since March 3.
- The last 6 games at the Stadium of Light have resulted in just 9 goals.
- All Arsenal goals in the league have been scored with the left foot.
- Sunderland have won 8 points in their last 17 league matches against Arsenal.
Player To Watch Out For
Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)
Aaron Ramsey would be the obvious choice according to many but looking a little further, it’s Kieran Gibbs who has been putting in shift after shift, impressing both in attack and defence. Gibbs has been in good nick and after 2 weeks of rest, having been uninvolved in the internationals, the Englishman will be one of the fresher players in the Arsenal lineup and with Cazorla cutting in from the left, Gibbs will have ample oppurtunity to overlap on the left and cause all sorts of trouble. His defensive work has improved as well and on his day, the 23 year old can be one of the most dangerous left backs in the league.
Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal
Sunderland have yet to win a game and aren’t scoring frequently either while Arsenal have looked more assured with each passing week. However the Stadium of Light isn’t the most favourable venues for teams to travel to after tiring international commitments and this could result in a tight affair. The team scoring first should be favourites to win, and that team in most likeliness will be the away side with more quality in almost every part of the field.