Arsenal make the long trip to the North East to take on Sunderland in the Premier League tomorrow afternoon. The corresponding fixture was the first league game of the season for both sides and it finished goalless on a dull afternoon at the Emirates.
Sunderland’s James McClean is a big doubt for this game after picking up an ankle injury on international duty. McClean was Sunderland’s goalscorer when these two sides met at the Stadium of Light in the league last season. Lee Cattermole is expected to miss the game with a knee injury, but Carlos Cuellar could return for the hosts.
Arsenal have problems defensively. Laurent Koscielny has a calf problem and will have to pass a late fitness test to be able to play in this fixture. Captain Thomas Vermaelen will miss the game with an ankle injury. Arsene Wenger has said if Koscielny doesn’t play then he has other options. Ignasi Miquel is a possibility and Bacary Sagna can also play the position, with Carl Jenkinson then playing right-back. However, that is for the worst case scenario of Koscielny not playing. As long as Sebastian Squillaci isn’t on the team sheet, I will be happy.
Kieran Gibbs is expected to be out for 4 to 6 weeks still, so January signing Nacho Monreal is expected to continue at left-back. Francis Coquelin is expected to miss this game due to a hamstring injury, but Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey are expected to be ok having suffered minor injuries on international duty. Gervinho has returned from the Africa Cup of Nations but he is not in the squad for this game and has five days off.
Sunderland are a funny team this season. I don’t know what to make of them. They have been very up and down. There was a time I did think Sunderland looked as if they might go down this year, but they have picked it up a bit with good wins against West Ham and Wigan in recent weeks and they are currently 8 points clear of the relegation zone. It will be a tough fixture, going to Sunderland is never an easy trip, not for the fans or the players. It should be a physical game, but one I see Arsenal just edging.
Sunderland away is a fixture that a lot of Arsenal fans will have fond memories of last season. The Gunners won 2-1 thanks to a last minute winner from Thierry Henry. His last game in the Premier League for the club, his last kick in the Premier League for the club and it was a goal that proved vital at the end of the season, with Arsenal narrowly finishing above Tottenham to qualify for the Champions League this season.
It is a fixture that is rather funny for me. As mentioned above, Henry’s winner was a fantastic moment for all Arsenal fans. Where was I when the goal went in?. I was flying to Chicago for the first time that day. When I landed, I found out the Arsenal score and the goalscorers and was delighted to hear Henry had scored the winner. It’s a funny fixture because of the contrast in emotions the game gave me last season. Arsenal were drawn away to Sunderland in the FA Cup 5th Round last season and lost 2-0. That game was on the day I was flying back to London. I had the joy of landing to the news of Henry’s winner and the long sulk on the flight home due to Arsenal getting dumped out of the cup by Sunderland. Two games in a week.
What is also funny is that the fixture falls just two days shy of the year anniversary of Henry’s winner. So it’s a game that brings back fond memories of last year. The flight to one of my favourite cities in the world, a great week long trip spent in Chicago, Thierry bowing out in style and the sad memories of losing 4-0 to AC Milan followed by 2-0 away to Sunderland all in 1 week. So I have a few good memories and a couple of bad ones from that week in general and Sunderland away played a big part in 1 major positive and another big negative.
Any win will do this weekend. Keeping up the pressure on the teams above us is key right now. We had some good results in general last weekend with Everton and Chelsea dropping points, so we need to keep that pressure up and try to catch those that are within reach above us.