By Rob Kelly
“It’s always a disappointment to lose players at an important moment of the season. But on the other hand, it’s a great challenge for the team and a great opportunity to show that we are ready for a fight.” - Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger could be forgiven for breathing a huge sigh of relief this week as we moved from November into December.
The past month has been something of an ordeal for the Arsenal manager and his players. A dip that saw just two points collected from a possible nine in the Premier League was compounded by injuries to Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Alexis and Mikel Arteta.
Despite these concerns, the Gunners are still within touching distance of the Premier League summit as Sunderland arrive in town, and Wenger is confident his side will respond positively to the challenges they face.
“We have gone through a little bit of a bad spell in recent games, but we are two points off the top,” he told Arsenal Player. “The great opportunity for us is that, despite that bad spell, we are very close.
“That’s why it’s important that we keep our confidence and our determination very high, and start winning again.
“It’s always a disappointment to lose players at an important moment of the season. But on the other hand, it’s a great challenge for the team and a great opportunity to show that we are ready for a fight and can deal with it.”
|Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (knee), Welbeck (knee), Coquelin (knee), Cazorla (knee), Alexis (hamstrig), Arteta (calf)Sunderland: Rodwell (leg), Larsson (knee), Defoe (hamstring)|
Having looked in real peril after a poor start to the season, Sunderland are on an upward trajectory under new manager Sam Allardyce. The former West Ham boss has reinvigorated the Black Cats and Wenger says they will provide a real test for his team.
“He has made them much more solid defensively, and much more difficult to beat,” the Arsenal manager said. “That is always very important when a team has a lack of confidence.
“With Sam Allardyce, you know that you will be confronted with a resilient team, who are quick on the break. They used that well against Crystal Palace for example, when I saw the game, and they have made results recently.”
ONE TO WATCH
With every passing injury to a midfielder, the responsibility that sits on Aaron Ramsey’s shoulders weighs heavier.
The Wales international has only just returned from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for more than a month, but he showed his trademark energy and application at Norwich City last Sunday.
Having spent much of this season and last on the right flank, Ramsey should return to dictate terms in the middle of the park on Saturday - but Wenger feels he has grown as a player due to his spell out wide.
“I believe that a change of positions can help with development when you do well,” he said. “When you don’t do well, it can change your confidence.
“In Aaron’s situation, I think he has done extremely well - on an individual front, because he has developed a sure technique and I believe he has developed the quality of his runs and his positional play.
“On the team front, he has helped us as well because he balanced a very offensive side by being one more midfielder. That has helped us a lot.”
There will a familiar name in the Sunderland midfield on Saturday to those Arsenal fans who keep a close eye on transfer rumours.
|Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 11 top-flight clashes with Sunderland (W7 D4) and have only lost once in the last 23Mesut Ozil has had a hand in 13 goals in his last 12 Premier League appearances (two goals, 11 assists)Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantillimon has made a league-high 59 saves this season|
France international Yann M’Vila was linked with a move to the club while playing for Rennes some three years ago, but despite feverish speculation the move never transpired.
The tough-tackling defensive midfielder eventually ended up at Rubin Kazan in Russia, before completing a loan move to the Stadium of Light this summer.
Having taken such a keen interest in M’Vila, Wenger is well aware of his qualities and has been impressed with the way he has adapted to the Premier League.
“He was a very young, promising midfielder and we were interested in him,” the manager said. “But the year we wanted to bring him in, they did not want to sell him.
“He had a few off-the-field problems but it looks like now he’s stabilised and he’s of course a very good player who is a regular player in the national team in France.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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