Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Dick Advocaat was appointed Sunderland manager with just nine games of this season remaining, and therefore had little time to impose his philosophy upon the squad. While many coaches would concentrate on improving the defence and making the side difficult to beat, the Dutchman has come out all guns blazing - and has generally used a system featuring three natural strikers.
He has deployed both Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham on the flanks in a 4-3-3, asking them to track the opposition full-backs when required. They’re clearly very different types of player - Defoe a quick goal poacher and Wickham more of a target man - but they’ve performed their defensive duties admirably, and need no invitation to charge forward into attack. Still, Arsenal’s full-backs are likely to test their concentration levels and energy with some overlapping runs.
It’s slightly surprising that Advocaat has chosen to deploy these two out wide, and select either Steven Fletcher or Danny Graham up front, considering both have been short of goals over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, Sunderland have put opponents under pressure by getting the ball forward quickly, and often have three targets for crosses when the ball is out wide.
At the back, Sunderland are likely to defend deep and narrow. Full-backs Billy Jones and Patrick van Aanholt can both storm forward into attack when required - the latter has a great left foot - but will concentrate on defensive duties as Sunderland will counter-attack quickly through the forwards.
"Arsenal’s full-backs are likely to test their concentration levels and energy with some overlapping runs"
Ex-Manchester United defenders Wes Brown and John O’Shea have both partnered Sebastian Coates in recent weeks, which has created a combination better defending on the edge of their own box, rather than forced to track and chase opponents higher up the pitch. The giant goalkeeper, 6’8 Costel Pantilimon, is comfortable coming forward from his line to claim crosses, too.
Sunderland’s problems are illustrated nearly by two very simple statistics. They’ve attempted fewer shots per game than any other side in the Premier League (10.6), while allowing their opponents the most shots (16.1). In midfield they’ve always been a decent side, capable of retaining possession and enjoying good spells against superior opponents, but their slight improvement under Advocaat owes to improvement in the penalty boxes.
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