From the marmalade of the tackle to the croissant of planning. Sunderland v. Arsenal
By Phil Gregory*
Coming off the back of a stunning 6-0 against Braga, confidence will undoubtedly be high amongst the Arsenal camp. While the goals have flowed freely at home, with big wins against Bolton, Braga and Blackpool, our away games have been much more tighter. Despite giving the Arsenal ticket office the wrong mailing address, I managed to attend the Blackburn game and witnessed a tight, hard-fought victory, and there is of course the draw with Liverpool on the opening game of the season.
For me, the most important thing is that we are going into the game full of confidence. I think the psychological side of the game is vastly underrated by many coaches: how many times have you seen a team play well, then concede a freak goal and then suddenly lose the ability to link three passes together? Going into this game with a six nil win in the Champions League fresh in our players’ minds will do us the world of good, and perhaps Sunderland will approach the game with a certain feeling of trepidation at the thought of our attacking prowess.
This Sunderland side is a strange one. I rated Steve Bruce hugely as a manager for the work he did at Wigan, and it seemed right for a promising manager to be given a shot at a club with ambition and the money to match it. Unfortunately, its probably fair to say that he’s done his reputation more harm than good since his move, with large amount of money spend and little to show for it bar an expensive collection of Tottenham rejects.
So far this season there has been a commendable home win against Man City, but also a poor away loss to West Brom and a disappointing draw with Birmingham on the opening day of the season. It’s early days, but this Sunderland side don’t seem to have any real top half credentials. In terms of form, those results are certainly a mixed bag, but the Stadium of Light was a tough place to go last season so we can’t take three points for granted.
The Mackems will be without Lee Cattermole after the midfielder continued on his crusade to hold the record for most red cards in a Premier League season (he’s not far off after only a few games). With their Albanian midfielder Cana having departed for Turkey, we’re fortunate to be going into the game not having to face two potentially dangerous tacklers.
In terms of injuries, both Diaby and Vermaelen will apparently be fit for the game against West Brom the following weekend. Apart from those two, its just the longer-term quintet of Walcott, Van Persie, Bendtner, Frimpong and Ramsey that are out. So only seven then.
Sunderland have their fair share of injuries too, with notable names including ex-Hull defender Michael Turner, defender John Mensah and Scottish international Craig Gordon.
Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy
Rosicky Chamakh Arshavin
A little bit trickier to predict the team for this game. The back five is fairly obvious, but you could argue that Denilson will be an option in place of Wilshere. To be fair to Jack, I’m not convinced he deserves to lose his place (not even close to it in fact) and, well, if he was trusted in midfield for a trip to Anfield, then he can be trusted for a trip to Sunderland.
Has Vela done enough to deserve a start on the left? Perhaps, but you have to question whether Wenger will want to change a formula that is producing goals left, right and centre. Not to worry, Carlos can have another cameo and take Tottenham apart instead on Tuesday instead.
I plumped for Rosicky in on the right ahead of Nasri, despite the Frenchman having started the game against Braga. Rosicky has been really impressive so far this season, and Wenger was perhaps just wrapping him in cotton wool in light of the tricky away game coming up.
Prediction time. The Stadium of Light is never an easy place to go, but this Sunderland side doesn’t look half as solid as it did last season. Both Mensah and Turner are big losses for their defence, while with neither Cana nor Cattermole being in the side their pressing will be less potent. My main area of concern would be the pace of Gyan and Bent exploiting the space our high line leaves in behind. Almunia will have to sweep up well behind them, while the offside trap will have to be spot on otherwise they will have one-on-one chances against Almunia. If however, we can dominate possession, we can starve their forwards of the ball and tire them out closing down our back four.
2-0 to the Arsenal.
*The article is by Phil but not the stupid headline. Some childish Notlobian sub-editor sneaked in and did that. I have no idea what it means. Tony
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