With Moneychester City smashing Stoke yesterday at the Etihad, it pretty much means that they have an additional point over us with their superior goal difference. So whilst a point today would take us level with them, we really should be aiming for all three, because I think we need a gap between us by the time we go to Manchester to play them, because I don’t think we’ll be wanting to have to win against them in order to secure third.
Listen to me, talking about third as if we’re fighting for something, but at this stage of the season, with still another three games to go, it’s the only thing I can do to keep this season interesting. We have to sit watching two technically inferior teams slug it out for the title because we failed so miserably to compete when it came to the business end of the season. It hurts that both the Spuds and Leicester have more ‘heart’ and ‘mental strength’ than our Arsenal team, so the only way to try to gain some sort of interest in the conclusion of this Premier League, is to look to the battle with City for third. Six months ago if you’d have said that there’s a possibility that we might go to the City of Manchester stadium two points clear of City if we beat Sunderland away and Norwich at home, I’d have bitten your hand off and run down the street flailing my arms wildly, but only because I’d have assumed they were in second and us in first. But with both teams where they are it leaves a little less spice to that match in a few weeks.
But we have to do the business first. We now have to beat Sunderland on their turf today, because even a draw means we will probably go in to the game in two weeks needing a win to get third. If that happens I wouldn’t fancy our chances.
So I hope the team are up for this today. You can be damn sure Sunderland will be. The will set up to be physical in the tackle, fighting for every ball and knowing an Allardyce team, leaving the odd foot in to see what they can get away with, roared on by a home crowd who will shout the standard “same old Arsenal, always cheating” nonsense when one of their players scythes down one of ours and then turns to the referee with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. So we have to be composed. We have to be better in possession and we have to move the ball quicker. How the team lines up could determine that today. Against West Brom we saw some good performances from the forward players. We moved the ball quicker than we did at Crystal Palace and Iwobi, Alexis, Ozil and Ramsey all contributed towards that. Will Arsene go with the same team as he did on Thursday? I have my doubts. With a back four that has two slower central defenders in Kone and Kaboul, a player like Giroud up top will be exactly what they’d want to see. He won’t run the channels, he’ll go head-to-head on aerial and physical duels and they’d probably much prefer that. But Welbeck’s mobility will see him pull them around across the park a little bit, which would open up space for other players to run in to too, so I’d like to see Danny start along with Alexis and Iwobi.
I’d also like to see Mesut get himself another assist. At the start of the season it looked like he’d smash Thierry’s record, but his end product in terms of assists seems to have dried up, although as I’ve alredy commented on previously this seems to be more on his teammates than the German himself. If he’s notching up assists today it means we’re getting goals and I’d like to see plenty of that, thank you very much.
The midfield will also be an interesting decision for Arsene. Ramsey and Elneny worked against West Brom and whilst I’d still be tempted to try it again if I was Arsene, I kind of wonder if we should be looking at the defensive minded attributes of Coquelin against the physicality that Sunderland will bring. Ramsey will show more going forward and he’s technically a better player than Le Coq, but he won’t be dropping back to sit in front of the back four when Sunderland venture forward and one of the things Sunderland will try to do is get the ball to Borini and Watmore on the flanks to get Defoe running in behind Koscielny and his partner, which I’ve seen Coquelin snuff out possession out wide in those areas of the pitch more than Ramsey.
With a tiny but prolific striker in Defore up top Sunderland will look for those balls in behind, so if Mertesacker retains his place then that will be something we don’t want to see – Defoe isolating our BFG. That’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if Gabriel came back in. He has hardly impressed in recent games, but he has the recovery pace that Big Per doesn’t, so that is an asset against Defoe that we might need come kick off.
I have absolutely no idea how today will pan out. It could be a game in which Arsenal are able to exploit more space because the onus will be on the home team to press higher or attack more from their fans, or it could be a game in which we look over awed by the performance and give Sunderland too much respect. They are in the bottom three for a reason and really we should be beating them. But it is the time in the season where teams fight that little bit harder than normal and so I don’t expect them to play like a team in the bottom three. I suspect this will be tight and I think there might be some bruised bodies by the end. But we have to show our class and beat those mackems.
Catch you tomorrow.
Oh, P.S. Mike Dean’s the ref, so expect some awful decisions against us, as is his wont.