Stadium of Light, Sunderland
October 25th, 2014; 15:00 GMT
Saturday’s match at the Stadium of Light pits two teams coming off disappointing results in their last English Premier League matches. Sunderland were destroyed by Southampton, suffering an 8-0 defeat. Arsenal played poorly against Hull City, with about 20 minutes of good play being sufficient to get a point out of a match where they should have expected to get all three. For Arsenal fans, this match against Sunderland should not feel too different to many of Arsenal’s encounters this season. The question will be whether Arsenal have found some new ways to attack these all too familiar strategies and tactics.
Team News and Tactics
Sunderland will be without the services of Ricardo Alvarez, Emanuele Giaccherini, Sebastian Coates, and Billy Jones due to injury. These players have made a combined four Premier League starts and a combined total of seven appearances in the Premier League. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Sunderland will suffer much, if at all, due to the absence of these four players.
Vito Mannone probably starts in goal with a back four of Santiago Vergini at right back, John O’Shea and Wes Brown at center back, and Patrick van Aanholt at left back. In their 4-1-4-1 formation, Poyet will probably look to field a trio of central midfielders that will provide physicality and ball-winning. Given Arsenal’s vulnerability to counter-attacks and the punishment they received at the hands of Southampton, it seems likely that Sunderland will look to suck Arsenal deep into their half and then stop them from playing football.
The midfield trio will look to stay tight, win the ball, and play simple passes to those who can better set Sunderland away on the counter attack. Lee Cattermole will probably play the deepest midfield role with Liam Birdcutt and Jack Rodwell in front of him. Out wide, they may opt for one technical player, who can execute the right pass to set Sunderland off on the counter attack and provide excellent delivery on set pieces. The desire for this could see Sebastian Larsson played out wide with Adam Johnson on the other flank. Steven Fletcher will probably play up top looking to finish off counter attacking moves, operate as a threat on set pieces, and flick the ball on to Adam Johnson.
Possible Starting Lineup (4-1-4-1): Mannone (GK), Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Van Aanholt; Cattermole; Johnson; Birdcutt, Rodwell, Larsson, Fletcher
Arsenal come into this match with a much larger injury list. David Ospina, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Debuchy, and Mesut Ozil all have long-term injuries. Yaya Sanogo will also miss this match due to injury, while Jack Wilshere will miss the game due to suspension. On a more positive note, Theo Walcott looks set to return to the squad, though unlikely to start in this fixture. Calum Chambers also returns to the squad after serving a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Arsenal will probably continue with their 4-1-4-1 formation, as they still need to develop relationships and gain familiarity with the system, both offensively and defensively. Wojciech Szczesny will start in goal with a back four of Kieran Gibbs at left back, Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesacker at center back, and Calum Chambers at right back. Sunderland may look to exploit the left side of Arsenal’s defense on the counter, to force defensive errors from Nacho Monreal. In front of the back four, it seems that Mikel Arteta should get the start. Mathieu Flamini provides little value to the squad, and Arsenal have lacked a presence in possession to better control the flow of matches on the ball. Therefore, it seems that now is as good a time as any for Arteta to come back into the starting line-up. In front of Flamini, Arsenal could go with Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey in the midfield trio, with Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out wide. Danny Welbeck should start up front.
While Arsenal need to stop dropping points when they should not, these matches hopefully provide an opportunity to gain better understanding of how they want to operate as a unit, both defensively and offensively. Focusing on the defensive unit, the first goal they conceded to Hull came off of poor positioning of Santi Cazorla, as he followed the run of Mohamed Diame, leading to Arsenal unexpectedly playing in a 4-2-3-1 shape. This led to a large gap that allowed Hull to easily build their attack that led to the equalizer. Regardless of the defensive system that a team employs, individuals must have trust in the system and in each other. Otherwise, the organization and the ability to plan disintegrate, and it becomes rather easy for the opposition to create goal-scoring opportunities.
Possible Starting Lineup (4-1-4-1): Szczesny (GK), Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs; Arteta; Sanchez; Ramsey, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck
- Sunderland last beat Arsenal in an English Premier League match on November 21st, 2009, in a 1-0 victory at the Stadium of Light
- Sunderland’s 8-0 defeat to Southampton represented their largest defeat since they lost 8-0 to Watford, 32 years earlier
- Arsenal lead the English Premier League in possession (62.8%) and pass accuracy (87%) (Whoscored.com)
- Arsenal have won 55.1% of their aerial duels, good for 2nd best in the English Premier League, behind only Stoke
- Calum Chambers leads the English Premier League in yellow cards with five
Player to Watch
Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland)
With Alexis Sanchez on the pitch, Sebastian Larsson is nowhere close to being the best player on the pitch in this match. However, if Sunderland decide to play a more reactive style of football, they will need Larsson to maximize their ability to create goal-scoring opportunities with the limited opportunities he had. He needs to work hard to find those pockets of space to receive the ball with time and space. His role may involve hitting accurate long balls or diagonals to the likes of Fletcher and Johnson, looking to get them in behind Arsenal’s back line or put them in 1-on-1 situations with Arsenal’s fullbacks. His delivery on set pieces could also prove critical, as these opportunities represent moments where Larsson will have plenty of time and space to shape a ball into the box. From the Arsenal perspective, stopping Larsson would go a long way towards getting a result away from home. Therefore, while he is not the best player on the pitch, he could prove to be the most important.
Sunderland 1-1 Arsenal
While Arsenal should win this game, it seems that they find ways to put themselves in a bad position, only to rescue the match, usually through the brilliance of Alexis Sanchez. At this point, Arsenal have not made nearly enough progress in mastering their new system. This may come down to injuries, the World Cup leading to a lack of fitness to start the season and a short pre-season, but they need to start making progress soon. While it seems that the final two Top 4 spaces will be awarded by default, dropping points to inferior opposition and not gaining greater familiarity with the system and one another could put Arsenal in another scrap for a place in next season’s Champions League.