Injury-ravaged Arsenal will be desperate to claim their first Premier League victory in four matches when they host a Sunderland side which is outside the bottom three having won their last two.
Already robbed of the services of a number of first-team players, two more were forced off for Arsenal last weekend at Norwich City in the shape of Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez. The sheer volume of setbacks is seriously threatening to undermine their attempts to win a first league title for 12 years, and manager Arsene Wenger is finding his squad become more stretched by the week. Only three points here will be enough to ease his inevitable frustration.
Their most in-form player is one of the few that has not been confined to the treatment. Comfortably heading the leaderboard for the most assists in the Premier League this season, Mesut Ozil was on the scoresheet at Carrow Road by taking advantage of a bad clearance by goalkeeper John Ruddy. As in the previous game at West Bromwich Albion, they seemed to be cruising at that point but conceded an equaliser before half-time and from then on looked more likely to lose it.
Sunderland know more than most about going to Arsenal and shutting up shop, having achieved goalless draws in this fixture in four of the last six seasons, and after keeping two clean sheets in taking a maximum six points since the international break they will come into this with confidence that they can achieve something similar. Recent performances are solely down to the work of new manager Sam Allardyce, who as clearly reinstilled organisation and discipline to the Wearside club.
They had to be patient last time out at home to Stoke City in a match which turned on the sending off of opposing captain Ryan Shawcross early in the second period. It took until the 82nd minute for the deadlock to be broken by Patrick van Aanholt, before young striker Duncan Watmore enhanced his burgeoning reputation further by grabbing the second shortly after. Here, the Black Cats will be relying heavily on holding midfielders Lee Cattermole and Yann M’Vila – once linked with Arsenal – to soak up pressure and protect the three centre-backs.
The Arsenal injury list has been added to further by a lengthy lay-off for Santi Cazorla, with the scrap of positive news provided by the potential return of Theo Walcott.
Billy Jones returns for Sunderland following a one-match ban, but they will be without Jermain Defoe and Sebastian Larsson.
Last Meeting: Arsenal suffered home frustration back in May as Sunderland defended stoutly to gain the point they needed to ensure Premier League survival. There were few clear chances, but the visitors had to survive a number of goalmouth scrambles, while goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon made a couple of excellent saves to help them over the safety line.
Played for both – Justin Hoyte: Now a Trinidad & Tobago international, Hoyte came through the Arsenal youth system and made his first-team debut in May 2003. However, he never really established himself and left in 2008 after making 34 Premier League appearances, but not before spending the 2005-06 season on loan at Sunderland. On Wearside, he scored once in 27 outings as they were relegated with just 15 points.
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