An away trip to Sunderland for a lunchtime kick off it is for us all today. Well, obviously not those in different time zones, but we’ll all be watching it live at the same time. I’ve assumed the usual position of being up in Northumberland seeing The Management’s family this weekend, allowing me to profit for an away game, although I don’t feel as confident as some are today, I have to say. After all, whilst we haven’t exactly got a poor record against the Mackems, I don’t really remember any game in recent history that I’ve been coming up here that was easy. Last season we were pretty poor and the game had a very end of season feel to it. Sunderland were looking to pick up as many points as possible to save relegation and we were pretty secure as a Champions League placed side, so the game itself was turgid. Giroud was terrible and Theo made that infamous bottling of a tackle with Kaboul, with the game ending 0-0. Another result like that today wouldn’t exactly have us all singing the teams praises.
There are reasons to be more expectant though. Our form has been good since the opening day defeat to Liverpool. We’ve been on a winning run in the league that was only halted by a Boro team that were very well organised. Sunderland are yet to win this season and they don’t look as organised defensively. But that doesn’t make today a forgone conclusion.
With Arsenal it never is.
Arsène gave us an update yesterday on the team selection and by the sounds of it, the old injury curse is starting to read it’s head. We’ve lost Lucas to injury, who joins Welbeck, but we’ve also got problems with Santi, Theo and Monreal. All have picked up knocks and Le Boss has said that whilst Theo’s is minor, it is something that could potentially keep him out today.
That would be a shame, because he’s been great for us this season, and I’d like to see most of the form players return today. We rested Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Bellerin, Coquelin, Özil and Alexis, so it would be good to know that after a week off, Theo can also spot back in to the team with the other players. Those players should all be fresh – perhaps even fresher than some of the Sunderland players who played in midweek against Southampton – so what I really want to see above all else is an energy to the team. The same energy that we saw in the first half against Swansea. That game may have been closer than we wanted, but let’s all face it, they were a Xhaka gift away from being dead and buried at half time, as we utterly dominated in that first half.
That’s what we want to see from the off today; control of the ball and of possession, moving the Sunderland team around and fashioning chances. It won’t be easy though. Our midfield base is missing that creative outlet from deep with the absence of Santi and Xhaka through injury and suspension respectively. Elneny and Coquelin are decent enough deputies and I expect them to start today, although with Ramsey back in the squad I think we’ll see him at some stage today from the bench.
Hopefully that will be with us 3-0 up, although despite Sunderland’s position in the league, I don’t think we’ll get that today. I’m expecting them to try to approach the game in the same manner that Middlesbrough did. They’ll want to contain us for the opening 15 minutes, probably look for a few crunching tackles and get the crowd on side, then grow in to the game with the odd set piece or perhaps counter attack. Everybody has been targeting Monreal this season, so I expect that Sunderland will also look to our left flank for some joy, with Watmore being a tricky little player who will look to test our Spaniard. Assuming he plays.
For us, we’ll need to see more urgency in the final third. Manquillo and Van Aanholt might like to make the odd venture forward, so when that happens, Iwobi – who I think will still play despite The Ox’s brace in midweek and the fact he played 90 – and Walcott (assuming he plays too) will need to take advantage of the space in behind.
Sunderland would be stupid not to put a man on Özil, who will be Ndong, so I’m interested to see what happens in that particular battle. If Özil finds space, I wonder if we might see more of last seasons ‘assist king’ vintage. Particularly if we make the most of the flanks.
Right, as it’s an early one, I’m off for a bit a brekkie. Catch you tomorrow with hopefully (fingers crossed) a positive match review.