Sunderland Preview: A Chance to Show Arsenal’s Depth
I like many other Arsenal fans out there, was skeptical about the international break that was sandwiched in between club fixtures and my misery has been compounded with the fact that Arsenal had its fair share of casualties in the interlull.
Arsenal’s defense had been badly hit with injuries and Laurent Koscielny is set to join Kieran Gibbs in the sidelines following a calf injury he picked up playing for his nation against Germany. According to the official website, Koscielny will face a late fitness test for today’s game and the chances of him featuring are slim to none.
Arsenal’s captain, Thomas Vermaelen has added to his team’s ever-increasing injury list as he has had a recurrence of that ankle injury he suffered against West Ham. This now leaves Arsenal deceptively short at the back and one can wonder who will partner Per Mertesacker in the heart of the defense, with Johan Djourou yoddling in Germany at the moment.
This brings Arsenal to the curious cases of Ignasi Miquel and Sebastien Squillaci. Miquel has featured sparingly as you would expect, in early Capital One fixtures while the Squid has been in his lair all season long, waiting for June to come before he packs his bags to play in his native France, that’s if a team is brave enough to acquire his calamitous services.
While we ponder on Mertesacker’s potential partner today, the Gunners are blessed with full backs that are ready to strut their stuffs once again.
New boy, Nacho Monreal received a rousing reception in his debut for his team and got some minutes under his belt in mid-week when Spain played Uruguay. Today’s match would be another test for the Spaniard as he continues to acclimatize into Premier League football. Sunderland has a very woeful pitch (gave Mertesacker a season-ending injury last campaign) but their wingers have become used to it, so Monreal will have to be on his toes.
On the other flank, Bacary Sagna’s form has plummeted downhill recently but the full back wants to get back to his best (via Arsenal.com),
“I’m going to be honest with myself – I’ve not been at my best.
“I’m not very happy with myself, but it’s football. It’s a part where I need to get better. I’ve been working since last summer but I need to work more because I’ve been out a long time.
“I didn’t really have a pre-season but at a high level you don’t have time to breathe. You have a game every three days and have to keep coming. I’m looking forward to coming back to my best.
I remember when I used to label Sagna as the football S.I. unit for consistency but since his return from his long-term injury, he hasn’t been the same person and there has been the issue of his contract dispute as well.
Sagna has to be mindful that he has an eager Carl Jenkinson waiting on the ranks so Arsenal can ill-afford any more lapses from the big Frenchman. He had a good game by his standards against Germany and he fought hard to well the threat Lukas Podolski posed in the game. Germany still ended up victorious in the contest though.
In midfield, Francis Coquelin has hamstring problems but the boss has confirmed that Ramsey is alright despite claims that he pulled out from the Welsh squad with a calf injury (via Sky Sports). In attack, Gervinho has returned to North London after his nation was ousted by yours truly, Nigeria, and he has been rested.
Many Gooners were happy to see the Ivorian leave for the AFCON especially after his legendary miss against Bradford City in the Capital One cup quarterfinal. To his encouragement, Gervinho had a good tournament, played really well and scored some well-taken goals as well.
Even if he has been rested today, I’d expect Gervinho to get cameo roles from the bench as the season progresses. Like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it will be very hard to displace Arsenal’s incumbent wingers, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott, judging from the output on the final third in recent times.
Podolski has scored a dozen goals for Arsenal and he currently leads the Premier League assists chart as well. Walcott on the other hand, has been a phenom this season and has banged in a personal best of 18 goals and counting. He has also supplied his lion’s share of assists as well.
The Gunners have conceded a boatload of goals in the first half of most Premier League games and we can only hope that the trend will stop as soon as possible. The last time out, the Gunners came up against a Stoke Rugby side that had no plans of attacking so a clean sheet was more than welcome.
Despite Sunderland’s aberration of a pitch, Arsenal has been fruitful in the club’s visits to the North East in the league with three wins and five draws in their last nine outings. Arsenal’s last visit to the Stadium of Light was a good one with King Thierry Henry scoring the winner right at the death.
Even though Arsenal has won 10 of their last 18 games against Sunderland, the Stadium of Light currently boasts of the lowest amount of goals conceded on a Premier League ground with 26 unlike the Emirates that has seen 51 goals go in from Arsenal and its opposition.
With half an eye on Arsenal’s long-awaited clash with Bayern Munich, Arsene Wenger will be hoping for his side to go into that game brimming with confidence, and a win against Sunderland would go a long way in building that confidence.
Here’s to a great game of football.
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