Last year Arsenal’s game against Sunderland at the Stadium Of Light, which was almost a year ago to the day, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It was on a very sub-standard pitch that Per Mertesacker sustained an injury which meant that he missed the rest of the season. Arsenal went on to win the game 2-1 and today Arsene Wenger kwows that is it three points or busts for this players – or else that fourth place claim will start sounding a bit hollow.
So what should we be looking for?
1 Who is going to play as central defender? - With Vermaelen injured and Koscielny facing a late fitness test Wenger has a tricky decision to make about who will partner Per Mertesacker. The injuries raise the dreaded prospect (for some Arsenal fans) of a return to the Premiership of one Sebastien Squillaci. Alternatively Wenger could opt to play Ignasi Miquel his 20 year old Spaniard. Wenger has also suggested that Carl Jenkinson might get the nod with his pace and ability to read the game complementing Mertesacker’s physical presence.
2 Can Arsenal turn possession into goals? – So many times this season Arsenal, have enjoyed a large amount of possession in games and not delivered enough goals. With Sunderland I expect that the Black Cats will try and hit Arsenal on the break as well as use ex Gunner Sebastian Larsson to engineer chances from dead ball situations. I wonder if Arteta will play deeper than usual to counter this.
3 Will Wilshere and Walcott have an England hangover? - Both players were exceptional for their country this week, but how will that critical acclaim affect their game today? Walcott might find his opportunities to break at speed limited with Sunderland playing quite deep. As for Wilshere, surely he is the key man for Arsenal this afternoon as he wangles his way through the middle to create chances for the team’s front men.
4 Expect lots of long range shots from The Gunners – Let’s hope that Podolski, Cazorla and Arteta have their shooting boots on. I think that a packed Sunderland defence could mean that Arsenal’s best bet are shots from the edge of the area.
5 Can Giroud continue his rich vein of form? - The French striker has been reminding Arsenal fans this week that he has started his career at the club much better than a Dutchman whose name I don’t care to mention. Away at Sunderland though is exactly the type of game where Giroud will need to get goals. He has at times squandered chances. He better not to do today as I don’t think he will get too many.