Pre-Match Report

Sunderland v Arsenal - Match Preview

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By Richard Clarke

Until now, the success of Arsenal's season has been built on goals.

The statistics are well known - 55 in 19 games overall, 36 in the Premier League, seven more than any other top-flight team.

While their "goals against" tally actually belies the improvements at the back the "goals for" column has been the lintel in Arsène Wenger's architecture.

However at Sunderland on Saturday, the manager may have to rely on a rookie strike force for the first time this season.

With Robin van Persie (ankle) joining Nicklas Bendtner (groin) on the injured list, the Frenchman could utilise a duo who have started only one game in tandem - Eduardo and Carlos Vela.

The Croatian is a known force at the highest level and this week committed his future to the Club by signing a new contract. Vela, however, has only begun two Premier League games in his Arsenal career. The Mexican international, 20, has proved to be a lethal finisher at Carling Cup level. This, however, is a step up.

The Eduardo-Vela combination had their one outing in last season's FA Cup Fifth Round tie against Burnley at Emirates Stadium. Both got on the score-sheet in a 3-0 win. Their potential is great but, right now, reality is everything. In the short-term this pair simply have to provide the ammunition for Arsenal.

"It's Eduardo and Carlos Vela who will have the main central striking role for now," said Wenger at Friday's press conference. "That is a very important part in our play as we have a lot of offensive players and most of the time their game comes off this player. They can do that very well, for me."

Despite the injuries, Wenger does still have options. Denilson returns after nine weeks out and the manager added fit-again Theo Walcott to his squad on Friday, though he later suggested the Englishman may start on the bench. Also Wenger pointedly said that the mental and physical fatigue of international fixtures had taken a toll on the French contingent and Andrey Arshavin. With a Champions League tie on Tuesday and Chelsea next week, the selection for the Stadium of Light will be illuminating.

Sunderland have made a solid start to the season. Steve Bruce brought in proven Premier League experience over the summer and has been rewarded with eighth place after 12 games including four wins out of six at home.

"Sunderland have quite a big squad," said Wenger. "They are a team with a lot of dynamic movement and commitment. That is always very difficult to handle. They have a good team and they were unlucky to lose at Tottenham.

"It is always a great atmosphere at Sunderland. I am highly conscious it will need a great performance from our side to win but the players are focused.

"Last year we played a 1-1 draw and did not create a lot however now we have more creative potential in the squad."

Apart from the goals, the main aspect of Arsenal's season is they have always "turned up". Even those miserable Manchester losses came on the back of decent displays. If consistency and quality wins the title then, with a third of the season gone, Arsenal have at least put their names in the frame.

"We will let other people judge our football," said Wenger.

"Before we started the season, everybody said we would not score goals at all. But even our two defeats were not disappointing team performances.

"They were just a bit unlucky. We could have won the games. Now, let's show we can be consistent.

"We have a game in hand on Chelsea at the top," he concluded. "If we win that, we can be two points behind and we play them next week. But in our job, the most important game is always the next one.

"The game against Chelsea has more significance if we win at Sunderland."

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