After a brief accidental sejour, the preview returns for Sunderland vs. Arsenal

By Phil Gregory

A resurgent Sunderland side lie in wait for Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, though a 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn could prove to be the catalyst for revitalising our own campaign. The draw at Bolton recently means that we really must be getting the three points from Sunderland if we are serious about catching Spurs. Such a result would be great against the league’s form side: Sunderland have won six of their last eight games, and taken thirteen points from their last five league games at home. Ouch.

Martin O’Neill has certainly turned Sunderland around since his return. Steve Bruce’s main failing was being the proverbial “teenager on Football Manager” come the transfer window: he’d buy about ten players –mostly good players, but not all – which would raise fan expectations, but such an influx would require a substantial “bedding in” period. A weaker group of players who know each other will outperform a better team thrown together and unfortunately rather than building slowly and adding a player or two, Bruce tried to do too much at once. He did spend a lot of money, but given he sold quite a few players too (who he’d invariably bought a season or two previously) his net spend – the difference between what he spent and what he received on transfers – was actually unexceptional. Liverpool under Benitez exhibited this phenomenon too: big spending, but actually net outlays weren’t as high as you would imagine. Whether this tells the whole story of the costs of such a wheeler dealer transfer policy remains to be seen, as charges such as agent fees and sign on fees won’t be included in a “transfer net spend” figure. A look at the growth in Sunderland’s general costs over the duration of Bruce’s management would be revealing, as would the general level of the wage bill. Often, transfer fees grab the headlines, but it is high wages for players on lengthy contracts that strangle a club financially.

Moving back to the matter at hand, things are looking better on the injury front with each passing week, with no new additions to the injury list from the weekend. In addition, Kieran Gibbs is back in the squad given his return to full training. Most likely he’ll need to build up match fitness before he can start games, but his return allows us the prospect of relieving Vermaelen at left back, and intensifying competition for a centreback berth.


Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Vermaelen

Song Arteta


Walcott Van Persie Chamberlain

There shouldn’t be too much controversy in that line up. Sagna comes in as he’ll probably have attained the required level of fitness to start by now, which is a great boost to the side. I’m also hoping to see Rosicky continue in the playmaker role, as I think he’s really kicked on recently and is playing well. That’s not to criticise Aaron Ramsey, but the Czech international is just that little bit fresher, having been used sparingly so far this season. Hopefully the impressive Chamberlain will continue on the left flank too. Gervinho’s return from the African Cup of Nations will certainly pose Wenger a selection dilemma, but on current performances Chamberlain will be no means be making way for the Ivorian.

A completely anecdotal look back at our recent record at the Stadium of Light isn’t great, with disappointing results over the last couple of seasons likely needing no reminder. With a largely full-strength line-up out we have enough about us to see off Sunderland despite their impressive recent performances, but anything short of a great performance will see us heading home disappointed. I’m not hoping anything other than a narrow win – three points is the only thing that really matters here – though I imagine most neutrals would put money on a draw, and the Mackems will feel they are capable of a win at home. Either way, it’s one of those games you wouldn’t bet on expecting to beat the bookie… I’ll go for 3-2 to the Arsenal, with the score line indicating how close I think it’ll be rather than any statement on the two teams’ defences.


p.s. apologies for my absence last week to the Untold team – I got my wires crossed and thought the game was on Sunday as opposed to Saturday. Evidently the UK’s cold snap is freezing my brain.

41 Replies to “After a brief accidental sejour, the preview returns for Sunderland vs. Arsenal”

  1. @ Phil, I am glad your back. I’ve missed agreeing/disagreeing with you.

    As it goes, I totally agree with your starting line up. So on to the subs, it would be great to get a couple of early goals so we can take RVP off and play Henry. I would sub Verm for Gibbs quite late in the game as we need to ease him back in and finally I would make an curveball sub in taking Arteta off for Benni. We need Arteta fit and ready to go for the CL game and also it would send O’Neill into a tailspin as he tries to out think us and strategise for the FA Cup game next week based on tomorrow’s game.

  2. “Often, transfer fees grab the headlines, but it is high wages for players on lengthy contracts that strangle a club financially.”

    Very, very good point.

  3. Actually, I would take Rosicky out of this game and put him in our CL team as it will be a tough intimidating atmosphere that he seems to feed off. So I would put Ramsey back in tomorrow as he’s had a rest and hopefully he will be will be working on his link up play rather than shooting, which maybe a strange thing to say, but he has good vision for a pass, which he hasn’t put to enough use recently. I can imangine him delivering Alex OC or Theo with some great balls in the same way that Song has done this season.

  4. Not related to this particular line-up, but line-up related.

    For a while now, all the experts of the world (blogs and journalists) have been calling Chamakh useless, and wanting Arsenal to get rid of him. And Park has not gotten much playing time. And lately I started to see some “noise” about him wanting out of Arsenal this coming summer.

    What I was thinking, with probably no basis for saying this, is if Arsenal felt that it had to play a 442 against some team, might the 2 by Chamakh and Park? Or do you have other thoughts on how this pair gets into the lineup? I would imagine Park is more or less acclimated by now.

  5. Chamakh, best mate at the club was Nasri so I think he was affected by his departure quite a bit, not to mention the big change in playing style and key members to the midfield. Le Coq, Frimpong, Gerv, Arteta and Ramsey are players that were trying to find their feet in the squad and I think he struggled to click with them on the pitch.

    I hope to see him stay on for another season at least to see how he does playing alongside Jack, Afobe and Jenkinson. Jack seemed to link up well with him, Afobe could play off him and Jenkinson can cross the ball really well into the box. But if Chamakh wants to go, then we should let him though. I hope to see more of Park as he had a great game against Bolton playing with Arsharvin but a bad game against Marseille. I think he needs a run of games and I don’t know how that is going to happen.

  6. Must agree with Gooner Gal on Rosicky & Rambo. Rosicky can handle AC Milan better, and Arron must be fresh for a good performance against Black Cats. Leaving Rambo out might hit his confidence, and Rosicky probably can’t handle 2 games in 4 days.

  7. re: Chamakh – I genuinely don’t think there is much more to it than a crisis of confidence. Chamakh clearly is a good player – he’d barely acclimatised to the UK (language, culture, settling in) when Robin got injured and he step in and was scoring and supporting play excellently.

    He then went off the boil – probably knackered due to being thrown in at the deep end with little time to build up “EPL” fitness – then Robin comes back and he is relegated to the bench. The burn-out issue is the key one, as Wenger actually gave him a little mid season break, which is certainly unusual.

    Robin’s return and subsequent unbelievable form then leaves Chamakh with little playing time, and a loss of confidence means the Moroccan is ineffectual when he does play. Shame really.

    Re: Ramsey and Rosicky – probably a good set of points. I hadn’t really thought about the Milan game. That said, Rosicky has played games fairly frequently in recent times if I remember rightly, I don’t think he’s a “once a week” guy any more.

  8. A couple of news items:

    Nice writeup on Ryo in the Bolton News

    A day or two ago, some blog said that they were going to start a weekly writeup on the Arsenal Ladies, and the Arsenal Reserves. Which would have all (?) the Arsenal adult teams being covered, as well as the youth program (Young Guns (and others?)). I think it was Vital Arsenal, I didn’t see a particular author.

  9. The line up looks good, maybe put in Ramsey to have Rosicky for Wednesday, but either for Wednesday should be fine considering Champions League/Italian football is a little bit more free flowing and play actual football. (not as much wreckless tackling or ref bias unless you’re playing Barcelona).

    Good news regarding RVP, both Wenger and RVP deny the rumors!:



    RVP’s was supposedly on twitter, so I guess someone who has Twitter or knows how to use it can check the facts on that one.

  10. I stand corrected, Phil. Rosicky is in fact starting. Your lineup was spot on, well done!

  11. OH MY GOD I FEEL TEARS IN MY EYES!!! From the moment he came on the pitch I just felt he would score at least a goal. What a moment to score one.
    In the last minutes he plays in the EPL he gets the winner….

    What a moment….

  12. How unlucky must you be to concede a goal like that? Good that we the team wasn’t affected by it and kept going. Don’t think that Sunderland really deserved to lose; it was a pretty even match.
    By the way, Arshavin is not so useless after all, eh? Great assist.
    And as icing on the cake, Chelsea lost at Everton. Arsenal back in fourth (on goal difference).

  13. Unbelievable! He truly is an icon and a legend! Please hurry back Thierry!
    Fourth and in a CL spot! Great day so far!

  14. WOW!!! Now that was something…About a month back I had made a remark saying that it was only a matter of time when Ramsey gets amongst the goals and I hope it just ends his bout of near misses! Henry…what do I say…whoever wrote this script could not have written it any better! HENRY THE KING! I hate to see him go…well played guys! Proud to be a Gooner…

  15. 4th is a nice place to be. Our legend, our messiah, our Henry, got us there.
    Great losses for Liverpool & Chelski… And now Newcastle look like losers 3-0 down after 20 minutes.
    What a great turn around, who would have thought just 2 weeks back?!
    BTW, AW substitutions were ALL instrumental in the goals scored.

  16. Some days just don’t get better then days when Arsenal win a game. It just makes your day in a way.
    Henry being around is always magic! But Arsene will always remain the King for playing the game the way he done by the side lines…
    Hurrah to today’s game!

  17. I was suprised that Dowd got the Pool – Manc game otherwise known as the warm up act. I will go on record as stating that this was the first real big game that I think Man U played good competitive football this season and begrudgingly deserved to win.

    Chelsea without Drogba are on the ropes. When Drogba gets back he should ask for a 3 year deal instead of 2 now and a new signing on fee! Well done Everton and Pienaar for a job well done.

    I would of preferred a hard fought Spuds – Newcastle draw, but since we are in the top four again, it’s okay.

  18. Here’s to hoping that Mertesacker’s ankle injury isn’t severe.

    Ryo played the second half for Bolton. He got 1 shot on net, and took a number of corners from what I seen in the BBC play by play.

  19. People complain about Wigan’s pitch, but Sunderland’s was just as bad, if not worse today. I was suprised that they didn’t come out and attack us more than they did being at home. It was a tough game that we needed to win. Ending the day in fourth place is a massive psychological boost.

    I would also really like to credit Arsene Wenger for his subs firstly who were all vital to the win today and secondly the away fans who supported the team from the begining until the end. Bringing on Aaron Ramsey instead of the more defensive Le Coq, was a big call when Per went off and Arsharvin for Theo was also a big call. But then there is only one Arsene Wenger!!!!

  20. As wenger predicted, the statue got bigger and bigger. Wonder what the AAA MON lovers make of it all?

  21. Gooner Gal,
    Imo, Chamakh hasn’t been near the same since RvP came back from injury and it’s carried over. I think part of the situation is psychological there and somewhere he finds himself not measuring up. Admittedly this is amateur, but he went from scorching hot to ice cold and hasn’t returned to contributing, to say the obvious. I don’t see that he’s had much success in Africa either, so what’s there to build on. I really have loved his passion to be here and his immense skills, it seemed, in heading/poaching in the box, but then RvP returned and something went pear-shaped with no return to form in sight, except for hope springing eternal. I’d want him to succeed, but is that level of non-success affordable on any level in our circumstances. Does anyone really see him stepping it up to spell RvP for whatever reseason?

  22. @bob

    That is kind of what I was looking at in my post near the top. Could Chamakh and Park form the 2 of a 442, should Wenger feel that was a better formation for a particular team? Chamakh I believe scored a lot of headers in France, and I think Park is good with his head as well (no proof, just vague recollection). Arsenal doesn’t tend to play the diagonal cross, but surely they could try? One then needs Chamakh and Park to work with each other, one providing the final cross and the other trying to get on it. Of course, one or two of the midfield could try to get into positions to help as well. That would at least give them a system to work with, albeit one we don’t play often.

  23. Wish I knew what was up with chamakh , and for that matter why we signed park,,but who knows? If these two really cannot make it, for whatever reasons, and there are many out there in the blogosphere…..maybe time to give afobe a go at the right time in games? Would love to see what he can do, he may well be up against Campbell next season.

  24. Mandy Dodd,
    Park looked good, even clinical, on some YouTube videos of his successes as S. Korea captain. I think there’s a pecking order of loyalties and that AW sticks to it out of belief and/or realizing that Chamakh is fragile upstairs and any promotion of Park might end any hope of Chamakh’s return to any semblance of viability. I would love us/him to recover the Chamakh we first glimpsed; but I think there’s either (a) a relentless spiral of “I’m a failure at my dream team” that the lad somehow needs to shake or (b) that we/AFC/AW did not think it would prove so unrewarding to play him out of his true position/comfort zone (similar to Arhavin’s case). RvP is our wonder, but it has us play others out of position and not everyone (and perhaps not MOST) are so elastic that they can change their preferred/customary/long-term positions and presto just produce. Not that it’s easy, but perhaps that practice and perception is what needs to be challenged and modified at AFC?

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