By Chris Harris
Solid enough defence? Check. A decent front two? Check. Organised and competitive? Check. On the face of it, Sunderland have the ingredients to do what they never looked like doing on their last visit to the top flight - stay up.
And then there's the Roy Keane factor. He may be new to management but few command as much respect as the former Manchester United captain. Keane had a knack of getting the best out of his team-mates during his playing days; he has the same ability as a manager.
Few sides will get an easy ride at the Stadium of Light this season - just ask Tottenham and Reading, already losers on Wearside. Points on the road have been harder to come by for Sunderland, although they did give Manchester United a scare with a disciplined, spirited performance at Old Trafford. Arsenal can expect much of the same on Sunday.
We spoke to Ian Laws of the Sunderland Echo ahead of this weekend's Premier League clash. Read on for his views on Sunderland's start to the season, Keane's influence, the raft of new signings and the tactics he expects the Black Cats to deploy at Emirates Stadium.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It has been a pretty typical start to the season for a newly-promoted side. There have been a couple of very good results, beating Spurs on the opening day was definitely a high. They made a solid start but it has been up and down. They lost disappointingly at Wigan and in the League Cup at Luton. They are trying to get the consistency and to get the new players bedded in. It's early days to make a decision on where Sunderland will end up."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"'Respect' pretty much sums it up with Roy Keane. He's got it in the dressing room, he's got it in the press room and he gets it pretty much everywhere he goes. It's amazing what he has done because Sunderland were in the bottom three in the Championship when he took over a year ago. Keane has revolutionised the club, he has changed the backroom, changed the squad almost completely and of course guided the side to the very top of the Championship. It has been a remarkable rise and something you would not have guessed would happen when he came in for his first managerial job. He's just an icon here already. He was the man that Sunderland fans, and a lot of fans across the country, loved to hate, but you can see that he is driven. He's brought that attitude to Sunderland and it is working."
"The stand-out player for me of the new signings has been Paul McShane in defence. Not a huge amount was known about him when he came here. He started out at Manchester United and didn't quite make it in the first team. He went off to West Brom last season as part of the deal which took Tomasz Kuszczak to Old Trafford. He did well there, he shone against Sunderland, he's come in and looked the sort of player who most fans will like. He might not be a pure, Arsenal-type total footballer, but he's proper defender, he's hard, fearless and he has the home crowd straight on his side.
"Craig Gordon has not done too much wrong so no one is asking questions about his fee, which was a British record for a goalkeeper. A lot of the new guys are bedding in and Keane hasn't been able to field his best side because of various injuries. Kenwyne Jones and Michael Chopra are good strikers and they will be very happy with their respective debuts. Kenwyne looked good as a lone striker at Old Trafford when he made his debut and then he got a good goal against Reading in his home debut. Michael scored in the first two games including a last-gasp winner against Spurs on the opening day, so no better way to endear yourself to the home fans."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"I think if they get their best men fit then they should have enough to stick in there because they have a mixture of youth and experience in the side. They certainly have plenty of players and I expect Keane to add to the squad in January. I just think that the way Keane gets a bit more out of players will be enough for them to stay up and build something."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"The strikers have been rather starved of chances, and that's looking like Sunderland's biggest problem at the moment. And another problem may be that there's a lot of players without a lot of Premier League experience and they are still finding their way. That might be a danger to them."
"I think it will be similar to how Keane approached the Manchester United game. He knows you can't go gung-ho against teams of the talent Manchester United and Arsenal possess. United haven't fired as well as Arsenal have this season but Sunderland went to Old Trafford and frustrated them for long periods, kept them out of the box for the most part. They had nothing as an attacking force but it took a set piece for United to get the winning goal, so it wasn't an easy afternoon for them. So I expect Keane to put big Kenwyne up front on his own again and look to get scraps off him if they can."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"The perception of Arsenal is very positive here. We had Justin Hoyte on loan, he did very well in Mick McCarthy's time. Anybody watching Arsenal cannot fail to be excited and entertained by the sort of football they are playing. There is life after Thierry."