Sunderland v Arsenal

Talking Heads

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Before and after every first-team fixture, our co-commentator and an Arsenal blogger will have their say on the game.

Arsenal took on Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday and our Talking Heads for this game were former Gunner Martin Hayes and YW from A Cultured Left Foot.


Martin Hayes Studio guestMARTIN HAYES, STUDIO GUEST
That was a great win for Arsenal. The performance was really, really good. I thought we played superbly for 60-odd minutes and we were so comfortable. It should have been game over long before the red card for Carl Jenkinson. We missed a lot of chances - I suppose that was the big negative from the game - but when Arsenal went down to 10 men they had to show a different side of their game, a side they don't often show.

They dug in, dealt with lots of pressure, and the boys at the back were really impressive. Bacary Sagna stood out, he made so many important clearances. Abou Diaby did well too and Olivier Giroud used his aerial ability to deal with those crosses into the box. Wojciech Szczesny made a handful of good saves and we grinded it out to win 1-0. It was a throwback to old Arsenal sides when they would get a goal and then defend resolutely.

It was a pleasing day overall, now we can have a week's rest and prepare for the FA Cup and Blackburn Rovers.

I remember seeing Sunderland frustrating Arsenal in the first game of this season. They sat back and tried to hit us on the counter-attack. I can’t believe that Martin O’Neill would do that at home. I think the game will be quite open, which will really suit us. I expect us to have lots of possession and we can hopefully make the most of them coming out.


I like Adam Johnson. He’s a good old-fashioned type of winger who can come inside or go down the line. Sunderland have three or four players capable of creating something so we’ll really have to be on our game at the back. I think getting Nacho Monreal will help to do that. I thought he had a good debut against Stoke and will help to make the back four tighter. I think Lukas Podolski could benefit as well. He likes to come into the middle and isn’t really one for getting down the outside like Walcott is. Podolski and Gibbs worked well when Gibbs bombed on and got himself into a wide position. Monreal was doing the same against Stoke and hopefully he can maintain that.

I think we’ll capitalise from Sunderland playing a more open game than at the Emirates, so I’ll go for a 2-0 away win.

A solid three points to bring home and some good individual performances made for a great team one. It was important with Spurs and Chelsea winning that Arsenal kept the pressure on both sides as they look to finish as high as possible in the Premier League.

Carl Jenkinson won't have any complaints about either of his yellow cards and it is a steep learning curve for the youngster, especially as you would have expected him to play in this weekend's FA Cup tie. That was more than compensated for by Bacary Sagna's central defensive performance. The whole of the team defended well in the last half an hour with Wojciech Szczesny producing some outstanding saves when it mattered. Little wonder the players celebrated as if they had won a cup-tie; that show of emotion tells you how much they put into the game.

The only concerns will be the toll taken by injuries although with 10 days to the visit of Bayern Munich, hopefully Koscielny and Wilshere will be fit. The referee took ineptitude to new depths, little wonder that supporters and players lack respect for officials when they fail to punish teams equally. Thankfully there weren't any more serious injuries handed out. The midfield and forwards took a lot of punishment but they refused to buckle or capitulate, showing a strength of character which they have been accused of not having in the past. There were enough chances created to have enjoyed a more comfortable victory but credit to Simon Mignolet for his saves that kept Sunderland in the match.

The Premier League fixtures for February are kind ahead of a tough March. Three points last week against Stoke were deserved though hard work and I’m sure that privately Arsène would admit to having earmarked this as a nine out of nine month. I’d expect a similar match this week with Sunderland more content with loading the defence to avoid defeat than actively seeking victory. It’s patronising to think that it’s a big game for the Black Cats but it’s true that they will raise their game, seeking to emulate their win over Manchester City. Arsenal need to be wary of gifting any early advantage to the home side.

This international week has not been too disruptive to Arsenal. The England contingent in the squad all return on a high with Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere garnering deserved plaudits. Jack was particularly impressive against Brazil but it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise - he’s been performing at a high level since regaining his match sharpness and this will be key to Arsenal winning this weekend. The central striker position will also be an interesting choice for Arsène; Theo might suit a counter-attacking role but to drop Olivier Giroud to the bench even for part of the match seems to be harsh.

A fully-focused Arsenal XI is more than capable of repeating the win from last season’s corresponding fixture, almost a year ago to the day. That will keep the pressure on the top four, and Everton’s visit to Old Trafford on Sunday offers the opportunity to nip into fifth.

* The views expressed in Talking Heads do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Broadband Ltd


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