A big game for two sides at opposite ends of the table sees Sunderland look to escape the bottom three with victory against Arsenal, who can strengthen their position in the Champions League places by taking the points.
There is still plenty of work to do, but it all came together for the Black Cats on an excellent afternoon at fellow strugglers Norwich City, possessing the greater degree of cutting edge and proving solid at the back to keep a welcome clean sheet. It was a huge boost for the club in its bid for survival, as had they lost it would have given them a huge amount of ground to make up with so few games to spare, so they should enter this one in confident mood as they set about trying to ruffle Arsenal’s feathers.
That game in East Anglia only served to emphasise the impact of Sam Allardyce’s January signings, with Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri all having turned into integral components of the team, but their biggest driving force remains Jermain Defoe. He has hurt Arsenal several times in the past and will always be there to try and take full advantage of any slip-up from the Arsenal defence; he is the scorer of goals that their rivals lack, and that could ultimately prove to be the difference.
A significant number of supporters were not there to see it, but Arsenal managed to return to winning ways with a relatively straightforward success over West Bromwich Albion in a rare Thursday evening encounter in the Premier League. It was a result that saw them move back up into third place in what is becoming an increasingly intense race for the top four, and it was sealed by Alexis Sanchez, who after a lengthy lean period appears to back to his best form in front of goal.
Here the Gunners can expect Sunderland to be in their faces from the start and looking to prevent them from finding any kind of fluency on the ball, which was not always in evidence against West Brom. There was on occasion a lack of confidence on display from some players, with Olivier Giroud experiencing more frustration as his own run without a goal goes on. Moreover, the opportunity to add to their lead was often passed up as they returned to their over-elaborate tendencies in the final third.
Jack Rodwell is back for Sunderland after suffering from illness, but they have major doubts over the fitness of Jeremain Lens and DeAndre Yedlin.
At long last, Jack Wilshere could be involved again for Arsenal following his latest lengthy absence. Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky are not ready to return just yet.
Last Meeting: Two bad errors including one from their former goalkeeper Vito Mannone allowed Alexis Sanchez to grab a brace and seal a 2-0 victory for Arsenal in October 2014. The first came on the half-hour mark when a woeful Wes Brown backpass was intercepted by the Chilean, who took full advantage, while the second arrived late on as he caught Mannone dwelling on the ball to gleefully fire into the net.
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