Tonight’s game against Sunderland is probably the closest you’ll ever get to a ‘dead rubber’ game without it being an actual dead rubber or a game I think. Sunderland are down and have nothing but ‘pride’ to play for, which I’ve always found a ludicrous comment to make, because if you’re relegated because you are one of the worst teams in the division how can there be any ‘pride’ at stake at all. As for Arsenal, we’ve essentially sealed our Europa League fate by being in the cup final and let’s be honest we’re not seeing Liverpool lose or draw on Sunday, so it’s just about getting a good result under the belt to build some kind of momentum ahead of the FA Cup final.

The good news is that what I saw on Saturday evening was a team who suddenly looked like they were all pulling in the same direction. Stoke may have had one foot in the sand of a sunny seaside getaway, but Arsenal still had to overcome a tricky side and the performance was impressive enough to give me a bit of hope. There was a collective drive, the players looked to be moving the ball around the pitch with some kind of purpose, as well as the end product and running in behind a back four that we hadn’t seen for some time. Players like Özil, Alexis and Ramsey when he was on in the second half, all looked like they’d gained an extra yard or two, which makes me a little less uneasy about that cup final in two weeks time.

Whether all of those players start tonight remains to be seen though, as Arsène’s presser yesterday still left a few unanswered questions as to who starts. Apparently Koscielny has a knock, Alexis took a kick and the Ox is still out, so I’d expect to see a little rotation in the team tonight I think. I don’t think he’ll go full rotation like Conte did yesterday, but I’d expect to see it mixed up a bit against a Sunderland side who have struggled all season.

Personally, I’d leave Cech in, have wing backs of Hector and Nacho – who was brilliant on Saturday – give Gabriel, Holding and Mustafi the centre back positions, bring in Elneny and Ramsey, with a forward three of Iwobi, Lucas (remember him?) and perhaps even Walcott. If that doesn’t work then you could do worse than have the first team options on the bench and utilise them in the second half if Sunderland prove to be a stubborn opposition to break down.

That side is rotated quite a lot but I still think it has enough about it. It feels a little like the FA Cup side that played in the earlier rounds and given the performance in the cup at St Mary’s, I’d fancy the side to put on a good display at home tonight. 

Sunderland will be hopeful of another good display by Pickford in between the sticks and if – as I expect – they get one, it’s hard not to see some clubs be after him in the summer. He’ll be a Premier League ‘keeper for years to come, that’s for sure.

Their beleaguered defence will have Kone and O’Shea in its heart and so a bit of pace against them might just give us a few chances. Theo has a lot to prove and so if he starts – as I expect he will – I’d be keen to see him having a go at those two or even Manquillo at left back. Hector too, actually, should be looking to capitalise on his clear frailties as a defender and so if we can get in behind him and Jones on the other side via Nacho and Iwobi overlapping and outnumbering him and Manquillo, then you’d fancy us to fashion plenty of chances.

Their midfield will have a clobbermeister in chief Cattermole, alongside one of the moaniest ex-Arsenal players I’ve known in Seb Larsson. I expect him to moan a bit tonight. About something.

Then their width comes from Borini and Khazri, who you’d think we’d be able to handle. The trick will be to keep concentration though. These types of games in the past have been ones where we forget that the opposition is actually allowed to have a go back and we’ve flooded forward for goals and left ourselves exposed. Defoe may not have the pace any more for it, but he does have the finishing ability, so will punish us if he’s given the chance.

But with our back three we should have enough cover to deal with any threat he poses.

Tonight should be a win. We still need a win. Like I’ve been saying for a few weeks it’s not because of the faint hope of Champions League football, but for the form guide going in to the cup final.

Keep the momentum up Arsenal.