Pre-Match Report

Sunderland v Arsenal - Match Preview

By Chris Harris


"I consider every Premier League game winnable but every game can also be a danger. You win the games by producing the best performance you can and that’s what we have to do. I believe that last year we were very consistent against teams [like Sunderland] so let’s be inspired by that." - Arsene Wenger


'One-nil down, two-one up' was once a famous Arsenal terrace chant, sparked by a comeback victory to beat Liverpool in the 1987 League Cup final.

Nearly 30 years on an identical comeback - achieved with added drama - could provide Arsenal's season with the kick-start that Arsene Wenger craves.

If Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski had not struck in the 90th and 91st minute respectively in Brussels, the team would have returned to London under a cloud and under increasing pressure. Instead, that last-gasp turnaround has put a spring in their step ahead of Saturday's trip to Sunderland.

 Before the Anderlecht game, Wenger and Jack Wilshere were making the case that Arsenal's points haul was not reflective of their performances this season. If anything, Wednesday night was the flipside of that.

"It was a tough game and having analysed it, we produced a lot of effort," said Wenger. "In the end of course people can say we were lucky to win the game but it’s not a coincidence. We didn’t give up and we showed the spirit that we have shown since the start of the season, and we were rewarded.

"That comeback puts us in a good position to qualify now and that’s the positive from the night. Let’s bring that win back into the Premier League. I think it can help us to gain confidence and also be stronger in the Premier League."


Wenger must decide whether to freshen up his starting XI for a second away trip in three days, and he will be forced into at least one change at the Stadium of Light with Wilshere serving a one-match ban for accumulated bookings.

Theo Walcott is in contention for a first-team return but Wenger hinted at his pre-match press conference that the England international could be held back until the visit of Burnley next weekend.

That might open the door for Podolski, very much on the periphery this season but back in the headlines after a typically-lethal finish in Brussels.

"He’s a great player," said Wenger. "When you have many great players in your squad you have to remember that you can only play 11.

"There’s a selection problem that you have but I think when they have the right attitude and the right spirit, like Lukas has, we know they can make an impact"

Wenger on Podolski

"There’s a selection problem that you have but I think when they have the right attitude and the right spirit, like Lukas has, we know that they can make an impact and a difference when they come on."

Clean sheets have been hard to come by for Arsenal - they have one in eight Premier League matches - and that's a concern when you consider that last season's title challenge was built on the foundation of a resolute defence.

Wenger does have Calum Chambers at his disposal on Saturday - the 19-year-old was suspended last weekend - and the Frenchman is starting to draw his own conclusions about where the versatile summer signing will settle.

"If I had to bet today I would say centre back," said Wenger. "I wouldn’t rule out central midfield and of course he can play right back as well.

"When he was a kid he played in midfield and he has been moved to right back so he likes to be at the heart of a game. Physiologically he’s more a central player than a wide player.

"Calum has good vision, technique and a huge physical potential. I was very happy with our first goal [at Anderlecht] because it was our right back who set up our left back. The attacking quality is in him; Calum is 19 and he’s learning his job very quickly and very well."



Sunderland have spent the week licking their wounds after a humiliating 8-0 defeat at Southampton - the club's heaviest loss for 32 years.

"It is one of those days where everything goes against you and the confidence drops in the game," noted Wenger. "Once you’re 4-0 down, what can you hope for? What we have seen against Southampton in the League Cup is that they are a good side - they could be the surprise team of this season for sure."

The chances of Gus Poyet's team being so generous for a second consecutive weekend are remote and Arsenal must prepare themselves for opponents who will surely go back to basics and make solid defending their priority.

Whether Vito Mannone is retained in goal after Sunderland's humbling remains to be seen, but the former Arsenal keeper has had more plaudits than brickbats since he swapped Emirates Stadium for the Stadium of Light.

"He gained his place and he’s a very talented goalkeeper," said Wenger. "Here [at Arsenal] he was in the position of Emi Martinez.

"I had three very good goalkeepers and Vito didn’t get the games he deserved. He decided to move to Sunderland and I’m happy that he made that decision. He had big competition there as well but now he’s a regular player and I think he has done extremely well. I’m not surprised at all."


Wednesday's win was a shot in the arm for Arsenal. A dramatic victory, forged in unlikely circumstances, is the kind of boost that can have a knock-on effect in the next game, and hopefully beyond.

The momentum from that dramatic finale in Brussels, coupled with Sunderland's natural anxiety after their south-coast horror show, gives the Gunners the perfect incentive to start Saturday's game on the front foot.

If they do, a Premier League campaign that is in danger of being defined by draws could get a very welcome win. Wenger believes his team is close to finding the right formula - provided they can cut out those defensive lapses.

Team News

Arsenal: Walcott, Gnabry (match fitness), Koscielny (Achilles), Ospina (thigh), Ozil (knee), Sanogo (hamstring), Debuchy (ankle), Giroud (tibia)

Sunderland: Jones (hamstring), Alvarez (knee), Coates (hip/thigh) Giaccherini (ankle/foot)

"Last year we had 17 clean sheets with the same defence and this year we can’t produce that," he said. "We put a lot of effort into our work to be more efficient but we give chances away that very few other teams do. At the moment our opponents have made the most of what we have given away.

"We don’t have enough wins and it’s that little difference between the team who is completely confident and a team that wants it absolutely. I believe that there’s not a lot of distance between the two and that’s what we want to gain.

"We are getting stronger. I think we need to keep the spirit and attitude that has given us our consistency since the start of the season. We have to transform our quality into more efficiency and I think that’s linked with confidence.

"Apart from that we dominate our games and we just haven’t got the maximum from what we created. We need to continue to dominate games and the rest will come."

Sunderland away was a significant game for Arsenal last season - it featured Mesut Ozil's debut assist and a brace from Aaron Ramsey that showed his new-found scoring touch was no fluke.

A fourth consecutive win at the Stadium of Light would be the perfect end to a week which, for a while in Belgium, looked pretty bleak.

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