Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side visit Sunderland on Saturday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Chris Young for their views.
Arsene Wenger will rarely face such an unpredictable starting XI this season as he will at Sunderland on Saturday.
The first game following transfer deadline day always sees some surprise line-ups, but Paolo Di Canio’s team selections so far in 2013/14 have been particularly variable - he made three changes for his second league game, then three for his third.
With captain John O’Shea suspended, plus Ki Sung-Yeung, Fabio Borini and Andrea Dossena all arriving since Sunderland’s last game (taking the Black Cats’ summer transfer signings up to an amazing 13), you’d do very well to correctly predict Di Canio’s team selection for this game.
"If there is an obvious area of weakness for Arsenal to exploit, it’s at dead-ball situations. In each of their three Premier League matches this season, Sunderland have conceded a goal from a corner"
Arsenal have encountered problems at the Stadium of Light in recent seasons, but Di Canio’s tactical approach differs from that of Martin O’Neill.
The Northern Irishman generally ordered his sides to sit deep, whereas Di Canio is likely to request heavy pressing in midfield during the opening stages. It’s a tiring approach, but can help his side nullify superior opponents in the first half, and Arsenal must remain committed to their short passing game.
So far, Sunderland have strongly favoured attacking down their left flank, where Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini, the club’s most expensive summer signing, is likely to be located. He’s an interesting, versatile player who causes problems primarily because of his intelligent positioning rather than his mazy dribbling or incisive passing, and Arsenal’s defensive players must communicate well to ensure he’s always being dealt with.
If there is an obvious area of weakness for Arsenal to exploit, it’s at dead-ball situations. In each of their three Premier League matches this season, Sunderland have conceded a goal from a corner.
While maximising set-piece opportunities isn’t necessarily something you’d normally associate with Arsenal, both Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are a threat in those situations, and popped up with crucial goals towards the end of last season.
Olivier Giroud is also excellent in the air, and will be determined to extend his record of three goals in three games.
CHRIS YOUNG, SUNDERLAND ECHO
There will be a lot of attention on Mesut Ozil making his debut. Sunderland have been difficult to judge so far. They had one good performance against Fulham, but they lost. The draw against Southampton was a backs-to-the-wall performance and it was a poor performance against Crystal Palace last time out but they conceivably could have gone on to win that game after equalising early in the second half. They are difficult to read at the moment because they have bought in a lot of new players in so it's difficult make any conclusions. Despite taking just one point from a possible nine there is still a lot of optimism around the place.
"The return of Steven Fletcher is a big boost, he scored a lovely goal against Palace considering he's been out for five months and he didn't get any pre-season games under his belt"
Last season when Arsenal came up here, Martin O'Neill put five men in midfield and it was more of a containing job until Carl Jenkinson got sent off in the second half. Sunderland could have won the game in the closing stages but I don't think Paolo Di Canio will be so cautious. His natural instinct is to attack, he wants his team to play football, I think he will probably play two forwards to try and test Arsenal.
Di Canio is not the only change the club has made. They have introduced a new director of football called Roberto De Fanti, they've got a new scouting system so it's very much on the Italian model now. The scouts will identify potential targets and Di Canio will say whether he wants them or not. Di Canio is a head coach more than a manager but obviously there has been a huge turnover of players with 13 coming in and quite a lot leaving. Di Canio refers to it as his revolution, not just in terms of personnel but in terms of training. Everything is completely different and a lot more intense. There has been a lot made of his discipline on the training ground.
The return of Steven Fletcher is a big boost, he scored a lovely goal against Palace considering he's been out for five months and he didn't get any pre-season games under his belt. He still won't be 100 per cent but he's a natural finisher and there is a lot of potential for a good partnership with Jozy Altidore, who's a big signing. Altidore is strong and quick while Fletcher is a poacher.
The position which Arsenal can exploit is central midfield. Sunderland have had a different combination there for every game they've played and none of them have really convinced. They've bought in Ki Sung-Yeung from Swansea on loan and I think he will probably go straight into the starting line-up. That area has been the biggest concern.
Arsenal are looking good and it's difficult to see anything other than an away win. Arsenal will be on a high after the Ozil signing and Sunderland are still finding their feet.
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