Striking a rich vein of consistent form is something that Sunderland have struggled to achieve this season and explains why they’re currently mired in mid-table. Ambitions of finally breaking into the top-six have once again been quashed on Wearside and defeat at Reading showed they’re still a long way from achieving that. Martin O’Neill, however, will be delighted that Danny Graham is finally on board to ease the scoring burden on Steven Fletcher and its expected that the Gateshead-born striker will make his home debut against Arsenal on Saturday. However, the defensive aspect of his side’s performance will come under scrutiny against free scoring Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger insists his side can’t afford to drop any more points between now and the end of the season with Champions League qualification hanging in the balance. The Gunners are two places and four points shy of Tottenham but a four-game unbeaten run has provided fresh optimism that they can pip their North London rivals to the punch. With 10 wins in their last 18 meetings with the North East club Wenger should be confident that his side can secure another crucial victory after seeing off Stoke at the Emirates Stadium last week. Goals haven’t been hard to come by either with Theo Walcott, Oliver Giroud and Lukas Podolski all weighing with their fair share in recent weeks.
Sunderland will be without James McLean after he sustained an ankle injury on Republic of Ireland duty in midweek but Carlos Cuellar could return after a hamstring injury.
Thomas Vermaelen is out due to an ankle problem and Laurent Koscielny’s calf injury means he faces a fitness test before kick off.
What the managers said…
“Arsenal have got very capable players and the younger players in the side are improving rapidly and it looks as if they’ve got a reasonable balance. That said, we played them last season in successive weeks – one in the league, one in the FA Cup – and I thought we could have won them both. We played them again on the opening day which was an excellent result for us away from home. They’re difficult to deal with, but we should go into it thinking we can win this match.” Martin O’Neill wants his Sunderland team to believe they can beat Arsenal (Sunderland Echo)
“It is not just the physical aspect but the mental pressure every time he plays,” he said. “We will have to manage him well physically to make sure he doesn’t face that burn-out. I had expected Jack to play only a part of the game on Wednesday but it didn’t happen and because of his quality he will be exposed to that.” Arsene Wenger fears Jack Wilshere could suffer burnout sooner rather than later (London Evening Standard)
Pre-match Statistic: Sunderland have never led Arsenal at half time in 23 Premier League meetings between the two sides and have scored only twice in the first 45 minutes.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-2 Arsenal