A last gasp equalizer for Wigan Athletic prevented Sunderland from their second league victory this season. Depleted to ten men half way through the first half, the performance the side put in was notable for its commitment and industry and Steve Bruce will hope for more of the same this weekend.
Arsenal were in fine form during the week with their 6-0 thrashing of Braga, but Sunderland will provide a very different test for Arsene Wenger’s side. The Gunners have failed to win at the Stadium of Light on their last two visits there, and it is the type of game they have typically been found wanting in over the past few seasons. It is also the type of game Sunderland have won since Bruce took charge over a year ago, with home wins against top 6 sides ratcheting up. The Black Cat’s boss insisted his side would have to be at their best to have any chance on Saturday, saying “We will need to play well from one to 11 to beat Arsenal, just as we did against Manchester City.” Backed by a partisan crowd, the Black Cats will no doubt look to press and harry their opponents and with the possibility of Darren Bent and Gyan up front together, the game will be a stern test for the fledgling Arsenal back four. The bookies make Arsenal clear favourites to win the game, but this fascinating Saturday teatime encounter should be a close one.
John Mensah is a doubt and Michael Turner is injured for the game, but Bruce should still have plenty of options to choose from and Anton Ferdinand and Titus Bramble could well continue their central defensive partnership. In midfield Jordan Henderson is likely to continue after his impressive recent form. His assist for Gyan last weekend was a fine piece of play and the life long Mackem goes from strength to strength in his development. It will be interesting to see if Bruce opts for a 4-4-2, deploying Gyan and Darren Bent, or making Gyan wait just a little longer for his home debut. One thing is certain however and he is sure to be greeted with a rousing reception following his excellent debut.
Another player who will miss out on Saturday is the suspended Lee Cattermole, following his sending off against Wigan last weekend. Bruce had no complaints about the dismissal by Andre Mariner of his 22-year-old captain at the time, and chose instead to lay the blame squarely on his player: “The one thing Lee has to do is learn. He got a yellow card before and he cannot make that kind of challenge or go to ground. He made it easy to the referee. We’re going to take a look at the situation with Lee – it’s becoming ridiculous. Once he’s been booked he can’t make that kind of challenge.” It is the second time a very similar incident has happened this season alone, and if Cattermole is to take on the club’s captaincy he has to lose this deeply troubling aspect from his game, the effects of which are threefold. It will lose the Black Cats league points for a start – on Saturday they were the better side with ten men and although had Cattermole stayed on the pitch, events would have played out very differently, it is not too far-fetched to suggest that Sunderland would have been clear favourites to triumph with a full strength team. The club’s captain must also set an example to the younger players coming through the ranks.
Jordan Henderson has consistently looked the more mature player this season, despite his lack of experience. Although he plays a more combative role in the side, Cattermole should learn from his example although it should be the other way round. Finally, as skipper, Cattermole simply can not keep getting suspended. He will now miss the visit of Arsenal and the League Cup tie with West Ham. If his suspensions are to continue to rack up, Bruce will have no choice but to strip him of the club captaincy.