Pre-Match Report

Sunderland v Arsenal - Preview

“It is a bit of a new start,” smiled Arsène Wenger.

“You know how hectic it is during this transfer period. It's difficult to combine the focus on a performance with, of course, transfers.

“But now you feel that finally you can do your job again really well. In a while, not too long maybe one or two months, we will have a new transfer period. That will haunt us very quickly again. But for [the next] month or two, we can really only focus on the quality of the game.”

Arsenal had looked decent enough before the international break when they beat Tottenham to rise to fourth in the Premier League. In fact, aside from the opening day defeat to Aston Villa, Wenger’s men have been pleasantly efficient throughout this nascent season. Their last four games have brought four wins, Champions League qualification and only one goal conceded.

"You compare the [feeling after the] first game against Aston Villa then after the combination of winning against Tottenham and announcing Ozil. It changed the mood in the camp and gave a lift not only to the players but to everybody who loves the Club."

Arsene Wenger

And then there is Mesut Ozil.

The deadline day signing from Real Madrid has all the hallmarks of a barrier-breaking acquisition. Even Wenger believes there are echoes of Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival in 1995 except, as he pointed out, Ozil seemed to flourishing in Spain whereas the Dutchman had been somewhat out of sorts in Italy before he joined Bruce Rioch’s team.

Even in the build-up to that derby victory a fortnight ago, Wenger had suggested the strength of his side was being under-rated but he knows the atmosphere surrounding the Club has been catapulted upward by that double whammy inside a couple of days.

“I'm pleased because you know how quickly you change your state of mind,” he said. “You compare the [feeling after the] first game against Aston Villa then after the combination of winning against Tottenham and announcing Ozil. It changed the mood in the camp and gave a lift not only to the players but to everybody who loves the Club.”

The re-appearance of Thomas Vermaelen in the squad on Saturday for the first time this season would add to the elevation a little more. The defender has been sidelined with a back problem since the summer but is in full training and was classed as “a possibility” for the trip to Sunderland and, if not, may go to Marseille in midweek.

However Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) and Yaya Sanogo (back) are casualties from the international break.

Sunderland are second from bottom having picked up just one point from their first three Premier League games. Manager Paolo di Canio was brought in late last season and successfully hauled his side away from the relegation zone.

In the summer he performed major surgery on his squad at the Stadium of Light. At the moment, it appears they are still in recuperation but Wenger is confident there will be a solid recovery once the side beds-in.

“There has been a complete change yes,” he said. “So it's very difficult for us to know what kind of team will play. But they are one of the teams that have a big experience. They are stable in this League so, after three games, you don't go to any conclusions. Sunderland will certainly be mid-table at the end of the season because they have good players.

"It's always tricky to get the same focus back very quickly after national team games."

Arsene Wenger

“And remember it's always tricky to get the same focus back very quickly after national team games. The job will be to get everybody to recover physically, mentally and - because some players had disappointments – to get them focused again on the club results.”

You feel Sunderland, under the charismatic, demonstrative di Canio, will not be allowed to be weak in that area.

“As an individual I don't know him well,” admitted Wenger. “But I always have a positive attitude towards people who have a big passion for the game.

“From the outside, you think that he has the basic quality to be a successful manager if he can get his personality through and be accepted.”

Many Arsenal fans have had their own passions re-ignited by the events of the last few weeks. Guts and sheer desire underpinned that win against a Tottenham side that were widely tipped for victory in the build-up.

Following it a day later with the signing of one of the world’s most creative and eye-catching players must rank as the best 36 hours to be an Arsenal fan for a few years.

Now we all know that pride comes before a fall and, in football, hype often precedes negative headlines but if you can’t get excited about the prospect of Muset Ozil mastering the Arsenal midfield on Saturday then you probably don’t have blood coursing through your veins – let alone bleed red-and-white.

The pressure cooker of football can be a cynical old arena sometimes but why not take a Saturday off?

Because we’ve got Mesut Ozil – a player that should rekindle all the excitement and optimism that first attracted us to football as children.

If the German has half the impact of Bergkamp he’ll have been worth twice the record-breaking fee Arsenal paid.

If you are going to the Stadium of Light then it feels like a day to make some noise and just be ‘proud to say that name’.

This Arsenal life feels immeasurably better than it did going into the north London derby.

In fact, to slightly disagree with the manager, it feels like a whole new start.

Game on.

Team news:

Sunderland: Brown (doubt - knee), Giaccherini (doubt - hamstring), O’Shea (suspended), Dossena (knee), Bardsley (foot)

Arsenal: Rosicky (thigh), Sanogo (back), Arteta (thigh), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Podolski (hamstring), Diaby (knee)

Referee: Martin Atkinson
Attendance: 39055


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