Pre-Match Report

Sunderland v Arsenal - Match Preview

There is a certain equity about Arsenal this season.

The statistics suggest that Arsène Wenger’s attacking players have shared the load in the first two thirds of the Premier League campaign.

It has been argued by some that the squad lack the presence of real star quality (though Messrs Cazorla, Wilshere and Walcott have been pretty stellar at times) and instead an egalitarian squad have all chipped in.

Of course, they head to Sunderland on Saturday in sixth. But fourth place, the initial aim, is closer than it has been at this stage in recent seasons and they have always made it before. However the modus operandi does seem a little different this time.

It is best to let the numbers explain.

Lukas Podolski is joint top of the Premier League assists table with nine while Walcott (seven) and Cazorla (six) are also in the top 12. No other club has three players in the first dozen on the list.

Sunderland v Arsenal

Walcott to score first @ 5/1


In the goalscoring charts, Arsenal players are not among the leaders but Walcott (11), Olivier Giroud (nine), Podolski (eight) and Cazorla (eight) are all packed into the top 23 marksmen. Again Wenger’s men are the most populous club within that bracket.

The point is this: all the component parts of the Arsenal attack are contributing in relatively even terms. Given that three quarters of it is new into the Premier League and squad strength will be crucial down the stretch of the season, one could suggest that is a pretty handy dynamic to possess.

“We have great technical quality and that’s why I believe we have such an important number of players that assist and score our goals,” said Wenger.

“Everybody is allowed to go forward. Everybody contributes to our offensive play. Because the players are quality, you find many of them involved in our goals.

“To be honest I was not convinced at the start of the season that I would play [all the attacking players] together, but I am happy that slowly they understand each other well and we are efficient in goalscoring. In some games we score plenty of goals and we are certainly scoring more than last year.”

Staying with attackers, our friends at Opta provided an interesting, if slightly less egalitarian, statistic that fired the manager’s imagination. It was this:

"Walcott and Podolski have scored/assisted 71 per cent of Arsenal’s goals this term"

“That’s quite impressive,” remarked the manager. “I’m totally convinced that Podolski and Walcott are very influential players in our team. We know that but this percentage is quite high.

“But then we go forward a lot; they are offensive a lot. We go through the wings quite a lot; they are playing on the wings. That might explain it.”

Like most of the Arsenal squad, Podolski and Walcott were involved in internationals this week. The only injury concern as a result is Laurent Koscielny, who faces a test on the calf he injured while playing for France. Iggy Miquel is in the squad in case the senior defender fails a fitness test.

Thomas Vermaelen (ankle) and Kieran Gibbs (thigh) are definitely out. Francis Coquelin is better after a hamstring problem but may not be risked. Meanwhile Gervinho has been given five days off to recover from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Nacho Monreal is set to continue at left back after his deadline day move from Malaga. The manager was impressed with his debut against Stoke City last weekend.

“For a guy that arrived on Thursday afternoon and played on Saturday with a new team, he didn’t look out of place at all,” said Wenger. “He looked like he’d always played for us.

“That shows his intelligence, his adaptability and we have seen some glimpses of his talent going forward. That’s what we like. It looks like he can integrate into our team play.”

A long, tough away trip after internationals in midweek has always been a banana skin for Wenger’s Arsenal and, unhelpfully, the manager sees a little upturn in form at Sunderland.

“They have had some good results that have got them out of a bit of trouble,” he said. “I think they’re a bit more comfortable now than they were a few weeks ago.


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“They reinforced and strengthened their offensive department at the start of the season. They bought Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher. Now they’ve got Danny Graham from Swansea [just before the window closed]. Maybe Martin O’Neill will start Graham against us, especially because they play at home, he might make his [home] debut.

“Further back they have James McClean as well, who can be very dangerous, and Stephane Sessegnon, who can create. So they have offensive quality.

“When you travel up to the north and come back with three points, you feel you have done very good business,” concluded the manager. “For us, that’s the target.

“Hopefully the pitch is good, the conditions are right and we can play our game.”

In an equitable manner, of course.

Team news:

Sunderland: Cuellar (doubt - hamstring), McClean (ankle), Cattermole (knee), Brown (knee)

Arsenal: Koscielny (doubt – calf), Vermaelen (ankle), Gibbs (thigh), Fabianski (ankle), Coquelin (hamstring), Gervinho (rested)

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