Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger and his side face Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on Saturday so, to find out more, tactical expert Michael Cox gave his pre-match view and we also asked local journalist Chris Young for his analysis.
"A shortage of firepower up front appears to be Sunderland’s main weakness. Last season their top league scorer was loanee Nicklas Bendtner, with eight goals. After Bendtner’s return to Arsenal, Martin O’Neill has a choice between the inexperienced trio of Fraizer Campbell, Ji Dong-Won and Connor Wickham as natural strikers. Barring a surprise late signing, Stephane Sessegnon could play up front at Emirates Stadium.
"In the league meeting between the sides at the Stadium of Light in February, Sunderland sat very deep and allowed Arsenal to play - Mikel Arteta completed more than 100 passes. But Arsenal eventually found a way through, via Aaron Ramsey’s long-range effort and Thierry Henry’s final Arsenal goal, so in the FA Cup meeting the following week Sunderland were more energetic in midfield. Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner and Jack Colback pressed hard, prevented Arsenal playing quick forward passes, and O’Neill’s side recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory. A similar approach is likely on Saturday, and Sunderland are a naturally combative side - last season they made 21.7 tackles per game, the most in the Premier League.
"O’Neill’s preferred formation was 4-4-1-1 last season, but he’s been experimenting with more of a 4-3-3 throughout pre-season, which becomes a 4-5-1 without the ball - likely to be the case for the majority of Saturday's game. Either way, they’ll remain solid in central positions and play quickly down the flanks when they win the ball."
CHRIS YOUNG, SUNDERLAND ECHO
“Sunderland's pre-season hasn't been great - they only won one of their six friendlies, and only scored four goals overall. There have been mitigating circumstances in that they have had quite a few injuries to key players and O'Neill gave the internationals an extra fortnight off, but performances have been fairly flat. At the moment they have only signed Carlos Cuellar, so it has been very quiet and there has not been very much hype leading up to the first game at all.
"Stephane Sessegnon had some time off and then came back and got an ankle injury, so he hasn't played a pre-season game. He was back in training on Tuesday so they are hopeful he will make Saturday's game, but they will have to patch him up. Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley are definitely out with ankle problems, David Vaughan has a groin injury while Connor Wickham is also a doubt.
"Against the bigger clubs under O'Neill they tend to sit back and hit teams on the break, and I'd expect them to do that on saturday. James McClean and Sessegnon are a threat on the counter, and a lot depends whether they get a new striker registered in time.
"Their two big creative players are Sessegnon and McClean and they will be key on Saturday, but Sessegnon is not going to be fully fit and that is a major problem. McClean has a big challenge in that he was a surprise package when he burst on to the scene last season, but he does not have that advantage now. He will get extra attention and he must learn to mix up his game a bit more.
"I'd expect home win - Sunderland are so light on strikers it is difficult to see anything other than an Arsenal victory."