Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Sunderland on Saturday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Sunderland suffered an embarrassing 8-0 defeat at Southampton last weekend, and Arsenal should expect a strong reaction from Gustavo Poyet’s side on Saturday - and probably a few changes to the starting XI too.
Sunderland’s disastrous defensive performance was a combination of poor organisation and some glaring individual errors, which are unlikely to be repeated. Sunderland have generally been compact and structured under Poyet, and they’d conceded only seven goals in seven games before last weekend.
"Steven Fletcher isn't particularly mobile but he comes alive when the ball is wide and is a reliable penalty box poacher"
In response to that thrashing, Poyet will probably order his side to defend extremely deep. That was Sunderland’s approach at the Emirates back in February, a game Arsenal won 4-1. Sunderland played primarily on the counter-attack, in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Up front should be Steven Fletcher, who scored twice and assisted the other in a 3-1 win over Stoke earlier this month. He’s not particularly mobile or regularly involved in deep positions, but he comes alive when the ball is wide, and is a reliable penalty box poacher.
Poyet has recently been using Will Buckley, a determined dribbler, on the right, with converted centre forward Connor Wickham wide left. Wickham might be omitted for this defensive task, however, with Adam Johnson coming into the side. He’s also capable of running with the ball at speed, and is very left-footed.
In midfield, expect changes. Last weekend Lee Cattermole played the holding role with Sebastian Larsson and Jordi Gomez, two good technical players, just ahead. But Liam Bridcutt could return because of his aggression and tenacity, while summer signing Jack Rodwell, a substitute for the last two games, would also bring extra power.
Arsenal might find themselves up against a physical, combative midfield trio, while Gomez or Larsson could be shifted out wide. Larsson, a former Arsenal player, is an excellent set-piece taker and created three of Sunderland’s four chances against Arsenal in February (see Fig 1)
At the back, Poyet must wish he could make four changes, but injuries to Billy Jones and Sebastian Coates means there are few options. Nevertheless, John O’Shea and Wes Brown are experienced performers, and usually have a fine relationship at the back.
There should be a familiar face in goal. Ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone had a nightmare last weekend, but Arsenal fans know he’s capable of superb displays. A man-of-the-match performance against Fulham a few years ago is particularly memorable and he’ll be desperate to atone for last weekend’s errors.
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