Arsenal will look to capitalise on Manchester United’s midweek slip-up at Chelsea when they welcome Sunderland to the Emirates on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger’s men trail leaders United by four points in the Premier League standings, though they have a game in hand on their title rivals after the Red Devils were overrun 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
The Gunners themselves suffered a setback over the weekend when their quest to end a trophy drought stretching back to 2005 was denied by a determined Birmingham in the Carling Cup final.
But suggestions that the shock defeat would rock Arsenal’s season were quickly answered on Wednesday when Wenger’s side romped to a 5-0 FA Cup triumph over Leyton Orient, setting up a quarter-final show-down with United in the process.
Although Cesc Fabregas is recovering better than expected from a hamstring injury, Wenger says his midfield maestro is unlikely to feature against the Black Cats.
“I don’t think he will be involved on Saturday against Sunderland,” Wenger said, ahead of a tough period for his side.
“We have an important game against Sunderland on Saturday, Barcelona on Tuesday and Manchester United in the quarter-final of the FA Cup after that.”
Wenger confirmed than striker Robin van Persie would miss ‘three to four weeks’ with a tear in the ligament at the back of his knee, while Arsenal will also be without Theo Walcott with an ankle problem and Lukasz Fabianski and Thomas Vermaelen will remain in the sidelines.
Sunderland also have their own injury concerns, with Danny Welbeck, Lee Cattermole, Michael Turner, Fraiser Campbell and David Meyler all sidelined.
Steve Bruce’s side enter the match in poor form, with just one win from their last seven in all competitions and four consecutive Premier League losses, but Bruce is still confident his side can pull off a surprise on Saturday.
“Over the course of a season there is going to be a time when your team doesn’t perform well,” Bruce said.
“We couldn’t have picked a more difficult period to try and get a response with games against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. But we know we’re capable of getting a result somewhere and we must get our heads down to get ready for the challenges ahead.”
Sunderland won the reverse fixture at the Stadium of Light 1-0 thanks to an injury-time strike from Darren Bent and given their good record against some of the Premier League’s heavyweights in recent years, will give themselves a chance but beware a fired-up Arsenal side ready to make amends for their cup loss.