Arsenal v Sunderland

Scouting Report - Sunderland

Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.

Arsene Wenger's side face Sunderland on Saturday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Chris Young. 

Of the 20 Premier League clubs, Sunderland are one of the trickiest to define in a tactical sense.

Not helped by a succession of managerial changes - Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill, Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet were all in charge within a two-year spell - and a tendency to recruit a plethora of players each summer, there’s a peculiar lack of identity about the Black Cats.

"Of the 20 Premier League clubs, Sunderland are one of the trickiest to define in a tactical sense"

Michael Cox

It feels more like Poyet’s side since the January transfer window, however, and the Uruguayan manager has his players organised and confident. With Sunderland in the Capital One Cup final and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, there’s an unusual feeling of optimism around the club, and they’ll arrive at the Emirates confident of getting a result.

In his playing days, Poyet was a goalscoring midfielder but also a feisty, combative tackler, and there are unquestionably elements of that approach throughout Sunderland’s side.

They’re aggressive without the ball, not always pressing high up the pitch, but instead closing down opposition attackers quickly when they receive forward passes. This can lead to fouls, however - in recent matches against Newcastle and Hull, they conceded too many free-kicks around the box.

Sunderland have kept four clean sheets in their last five matches (the exception was the 2-0 defeat to Hull, when Wes Brown was dismissed in the fourth minute) and Arsenal will have a tough task breaking them down.

With Wes Brown suspended, Poyet will probably field John O’Shea and newcomer Santiago Vergini together for the first time. O’Shea is greatly experienced and reads the game well, but can be guilty of clumsy tackles, while Argentine Vergini appears highly promising, but Poyet has suggested he’s currently unaccustomed to the physicality of the Premier League.

In midfield, Poyet has recruited Liam Bridcutt, one of his favourites from his Brighton days. He plays a simple role, breaking up play and distributing the ball reliably. Ahead of him, Jack Colback provides energy from the centre of midfield, while Ki Sung-Yeung is Sunderland’s most gifted passer, and has great authority on the ball.

The main threat is Barclays Player of the Month Adam Johnson, who has managed six goals and two assists in his last six matches. Predominantly left-footed, Johnson remains wide on the right touchline before cutting inside and shooting powerfully, and Arsenal must get support their left back, providing cover to show Johnson down the line.

Sunderland have really kicked on since beating Everton on Boxing Day. That was the catalyst for what's happened since and I think the League Cup has helped them - it's been a platform for them to improve their league form. You'd give Sunderland half a chance of staying up now, whereas three or four months ago, you wouldn't have given them any chance at all.

I think given the way that Sunderland have performed over the last couple of months, they've got a decent chance of staying up. They've still got to play five or six of the teams around them at home and I think the side is a lot more resilient now. They are working to a set system under Gus Poyet and are playing decent football. I think it will come down to whether they can win those home games.

"I think given the way that Sunderland have performed over the last couple of months, they've got a decent chance of staying up"

Chris Young

Adam Johnson has really rediscovered his form since the start of the year. He wasn't consistent in his first 18 months at Sunderland but he's been superb recently and is rightly back in the England reckoning as a result.

Vito Mannone has been superb too. He got his chance back at Hull in November, when Keiren Westwood got injured, and he's really grasped that opportunity and has developed into a real cult hero. Crucially, Sunderland are not massively missing Simon Mignolet, who was player of the season last year before he went to Liverpool.

Sunderland have got a 0-0 draw in three of their last five trips to the Emirates, so they will probably sit deep and play on the counter-attack. They have done that well in recent weeks - they look to be better set up to play away from home than they do at the Stadium of Light.

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