Sunderland - Arsenal Preview: Inconsistent Black Cats host injury-stricken Gunners
Both sides enter the contest in mixed form, with the away side looking for three points in an attempt to gain ground on rivals Spurs, who are four points ahead in fourth
By Sam Wells
Gardner, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose
Larsson, N'Diaye, Vaughan, Johnson
Sagna, Mertesacker, Miquel, Monreal
Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski
Martin O’Neill will be without Carlos Cuellar (hamstring) from the heart of his defence, so Titus Bramble will continue alongside John O'Shea.
The Irishman will captain the team in Lee Cattermole's (knee) absence, although the Stockton-born midfielder could make a return to the bench in this game.
Wes Brown (knee) is a long-term absentee for the Black Cats and Danny Graham is likely to once again feature from the bench following his deadline day move from Swansea.
Arsene Wenger is facing something of a crisis in central defence with Laurent Koscielny (calf) doubtful and Thomas Vermaelen (ankle) ruled out. If the Frenchman fails to recover it could mean a rare appearance for Ignasi Miquel or Sebastien Squillaci.
The Gunners are also without Kieran Gibbs (thigh) and Francis Coquelin (hamstring), while Aaron Ramsey is doubtful after missing Wales' midweek friendly with Austria due to a calf strain.
Theo Walcott was substituted in England's win over Brazil after a heavy collision with Julio Cesar, but is expected to be fine for the clash at the Stadium of Light.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Sunderland have won five of their last nine Premier League games (losing the other four) after winning just four of their previous 29 (drawing 13 and losing 12).
- Steven Fletcher has scored the first goal of the game six times this season - more often than any other Premier League player. He is 6/1 to open the scoring with bet365.
- Stephane Sessegnon, meanwhile, has been fouled more often than any other player this season - a total of 61 times thus far.
- Arsenal have made 13 errors leading to a goal in the Premier League this season; more than any other team in the league.
- The Gunners have also tended to start their games badly; if only the second half of Premier League fixtures counted this season, Arsenal would be second, only two points behind Manchester City.
- Lukas Podolski (pictured right) has played a part in 10 goals over his last eight Premier League appearances for Arsenal (four goals and six assists).
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Top 3 Predictions
Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal
- 20.31 %
Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal
- 17.21 %
Sunderland 1-2 Arsenal
- 12.79 %
|England - Premier League (EPL)||Feb 22, 2014||Arsenal 4 - Sunderland 1|
|England - Premier League (EPL)||Sep 14, 2013||Sunderland 1 - Arsenal 3|
|England - Premier League (EPL)||Feb 9, 2013||Sunderland 0 - Arsenal 1|
|England - Premier League (EPL)||Aug 18, 2012||Arsenal 0 - Sunderland 0|
|England - FA Cup (FA)||Feb 18, 2012||Sunderland 2 - Arsenal 0|
|Mar 9, 2014||Hull 3 - Sunderland 0||FA|
|Mar 2, 2014||Manchester City FC 3 - Sunderland 1||CCUP|
|Feb 22, 2014||Arsenal 4 - Sunderland 1||EPL|
|Feb 15, 2014||Sunderland 1 - Southampton 0||FA|
|Feb 8, 2014||Sunderland 0 - Hull 2||EPL|
|24||Carlos Javier Cuéllar||Defender|
Fletcher has been Sunderland's shining light this season as, in spite of the team's middling form, he has notched 10 goals in 23 games for the Black Cats. However, with Danny Graham's arrival, and bearing in mind Martin O'Neill's preferred formation this season (with Sessegnon behind a striker), even their top scorer must be wary of the new competition in the squad. Whether this, coupled with his two-game goalless streak, will spur him onto a good performance will be a key feature of this match.
The Germany international has come under some criticism in recent weeks as Arsenal's defence has looked frail, particularly in the shaky defensive displays against Brighton and Liverpool as Mertesacker himself looked particularly susceptible, his lack of pace more evident than ever. However, the arrival of Monreal coupled with a much-needed clean sheet against Stoke must have done wonders for their confidence and the 28-year-old will hope to take that impetus into the next game, in spite of the very real possibility of an unfamiliar centre-back partner.