Stadium Of Light, Tyne and Wear
15:00 Hrs GMT, 9th Feb 2013
Sunderland currently occupies the 12th place in the league table and are eight points clear of the relegation zone. But their loss against Reading last weekend reminded of their vulnerability and how careful they need to in order to avoid a relegation dog fight. The Black cats conceded a late winner and that would have provided Martin O’Neill with lot to think about as Sunderland’s second half performances in the last few matches have often let them down.
Arsenal on the other hand edged out Stoke City in a hard-fought win at the Emirates last weekend. It was not a typically convincing Arsenal performance, but perhaps more encouragingly, the Gunners ‘got the job done’ – something which they haven’t been able to do on a regular basis. The most positive news for Arsenal over the past few games have been the performance of Jack Wilshere. The diminutive midfielder was once again the star of the match in England’s win over Brazil. It seems as if the Englishman has regained his sharpness after months of absence due to injury. Wilshere’s form will prove to be crucial as Arsenal looks to chase down Tottenham and Everton above them.
We bring you the detailed preview of the upcoming clash which can prove to be vital for both the team.
Martin O’Neill has some selection headache ahead of his fixture. James McClean is unlikely to play any part in this match after hurting his ankle while he was away on international duty. Carlos Cuellar, whose last appearance in the League was in 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, could return in this match after recovering from his hamstring injury, but the defender is unlikely to start.
Danny Rose, who is fit once again, will replace Colback at the left-back spot. Which means Martin O’Neill will have to choose between Colback, N’Diaye and Vaughan for the two-man midfield pivot role.
It would be interesting to see whether the Sunderland manager chooses to give Danny Graham his first start for the Black Cats. One of the biggest problem for the home side has been their over reliance on Fletcher to provide them the goals. Fletcher hasn’t received much support from Sessegnon, Larsson or Johnson upfront; at times, he has been fighting a lone battle upfront.
Danny Graham’s inclusion would certainly provide Sunderland with more cutting edge upfront, but would Martin O’Neill make such a bold decision of playing two upfront against a side like Arsenal? It seems unlikely.
The Sunderland manager will also have to review Sessegnon’s role in the starting eleven. He has looked most effective while playing through the centre and in-behind the striker, but he hasn’t been consistent enough. Martin O’Neill again played Sessegnon out wide against Reading and he failed to make any impression on the game.
Against Arsenal, Martin O’Neill will revert back to the 4-2-3-1 formation against Arsenal. Cattermole is unlikely to start as he is yet to regain full match fitness. N’Diaye and Colback are likely to play the role of holding midfielders in the side, while Larsson, Sessegnon and Johnson plays behind Fletcher.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Mignolet(GK); Gardner, Bramble, O’Shea, Rose; N’Diaye, Colback; Johnson, Larsson, Sessegnon; Fletcher
Arsene Wenger’s biggest challenge in this match would be to line-up a solid back four. Captain Thomas Vermaelen is out of this fixture due to an ankle injury, while Frenchman Laurent Koscielny will face a late fitness test ahead of the game. If Koscielny fails to make it to the starting eleven, young Spaniard Ignasi Miquel will start alongside Mertesacker.
Gervinho has returned from the African Cup Of Nation, but is unlikely to start in this match. Thankfully for Arsenal, Ramsey, Walcott and Wilshere didn’t pick up any injury on international duty. Coquelin has regained his fitness and will be in contention for a place in the starting eleven.
Nacho Monreal has been impressive since making his debut for the Gunners and his partnership with Podolski on the left hand side seems promising for Arsenal, so has been Diaby’s partnership with Arteta.
Sunderland would sit deep and Arsenal might find it hard to break them down. Arsene Wenger will instruct his fullbacks to push forward and stretch the Sunderland defence. Colback and N’Diaye would look to man mark Cazorla and Wilshere in the midfield, hence Diaby will be pivotal with his driving forward runs from deep. But the Frenchman is unlikely to start with Cazorla coming back to the starting line-up and Wilshere dropping deep alongside Arteta.
It would be interesting to see whether Arsene Wenger deploys Walcott in the central role once again or persists with Giroud through the centre. Walcott, who is sure to drift infield, will provide a big threat for a relatively slow Sunderland defence.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny(GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Wilshere, Arteta; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
- The Gunners have lost just one of their last nine trips to the north-east in the Premier League (W3 D5 L1).
- Sunderland have won just one game against a team in the top half of the table this season (W1 D5 L7).
- There have been fewer goals scored at the Stadium of Light than at any other Premier League ground (26), in contrast to the most being netted at Arsenal’s Stadium the Emirates (51).
- Sunderland’s Danny Rose scored his one and only Premier League goal with a tremendous volley on his Premier League debut against Arsenal while playing for Tottenham.
- Arsene Wenger has lost only one of his 18 league matches against teams managed by Martin O’Neill (W10, D7, L1).
Player(s) To Watch Out For
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Jack Wilshere has hogged the lime-light recently with his man of the match performance against Brazil. While we can write as glowing review of the Arsenal midfielder’s performance, it is better we share what Terry Venables had to say about Jack Wilshere.
“As footballers, they are both [Wilshere and Paul Gascoigne] cut from the same cloth.
Wilshere has the same build, that same barrel chest and upper body strength that allows him to fend off opponents and keep them at arms length, ensuring him extra precious seconds on the ball to weave his magic.
The Arsenal midfielder also has the ability to glide past rivals with the ball in the same effortless way Gazza used to.
Neither were blessed with blistering pace but you try getting the ball off of them when they have it under their spell.
Brazil failed with Wilshere in the same manner countless of teams did with Gazza.
But, for me, the most striking similarity between the pair is their feel for the ball.
Gazza used to pass it with such a subtle, deft touch that it made it almost impossible for the recipient to miscontrol it.
Wilshere is the same.”
Sunderland 1 – 2 Arsenal
Arsene Wenger has historically had the upper hand against teams managed by Martin O’Neill and this will be no exception. Although Sunderland are sure to trouble a shaky Arsenal back-four, specially with Vermaelen missing, but Arsenal have enough fire power in their ranks to scrape past Sunderland.