Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
When Sam Allardyce took charge of Sunderland, they hadn’t won or kept a clean sheet in their opening eight games of the season.
In his first six games, Sunderland have won three, kept three clean sheets, and already hauled themselves out of the relegation zone. It’s been typical Allardyce stuff - deep defending and long balls - but it’s proved extremely effective. Sunderland will have barely any possession on Saturday, and like Norwich last weekend, will attempt to frustrate Arsenal with their deep defending.
"Up front, Allardyce has used a classic little-and-large combination of Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher"
Allardyce has sprung a slight surprise, however, by switching to a system featuring three centre backs. Although this proved disastrous in a 6-2 defeat to Everton, he’s used a 5-3-2 system for victories over both Crystal Palace and Stoke City in the last two games, and therefore it’s highly unlikely he’ll change much here. The wing backs drop alongside the centre backs, which will allow Arsenal’s full backs plenty of time and space.
Costel Pantilimon - the Premier League’s tallest player - is protected by a three-man defence which appears organised and effective in the air. John O’Shea plays between right-sided Sebastian Coates, who has impressed this season, and Younes Kaboul.
The wing backs are natural full backs rather than wingers, but are suited to the job. On the left, Patrick van Aanholt is an excellent technician, scored a fine long-range opener against Stoke last weekend, and will cover plenty of ground on the left and be assured in possession.
On the right, Allardyce has used either the hardworking Billy Jones or the incredibly quick but somewhat raw DeAndre Yedlin. If Arsenal use the ball quickly and attack in behind these players, Sunderland’s centre backs will have problems covering the wider areas of the pitch.
Allardyce uses three solid players in the centre of midfield. Yann M’Vila is a hugely talented defensive midfielder who can also move forward in possession and knock good passes out wide, while Lee Cattermole offers something similar to his left. Both are somewhat indisciplined, however.
Ex-Arsenal midfielder Sebastian Larsson moves into wider positions to combine with the overlapping right wing back, and is capable of providing good balls into the box from both open play and set-pieces - a key part of Sunderland’s game plan.
Up front, Allardyce has used a classic little-and-large combination of Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher. Sunderland hit lots of long passes towards the front two, and try to collect the second balls.
Defoe has been struggling with a hamstring injury, but Allardyce has good options - Jeremain Lens is the obvious replacement. Adam Johnson and Duncan Watmore have both impressed in substitute cameos and could theoretically used in a floating role behind Fletcher - but as natural wingers, they’re the big losers from Allardyce’s decision to play a 5-3-2.
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