Preview: Sunderland v Arsenal - Gunning For Victory: Part I

Here's hoping for another image of a down-trodden Wenger this weekend.

Welcome along one and all to yet another match preview. I won't lie, it seems there isn't a day goes by without Sunderland playing recently, and, to be fair, there are rarely a few between, but after the gruelling 120 minutes that it took us to get past Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, we're back on Premier league duty this weekend, and enjoy the visit of, as luck would have it, our fifth round opponents, Arsenal.

We go into the game as the form team in the whole of the league, and, despite there being a number of legs that you would have to forgive for being tired taking to the SOL at the weekend, we can honestly approach this fixture with minimal fear. We should also remember that Arsenal's record at the Stadium of Light doesn't make the best reading for Gunners in recent seasons, so we have reason to be optimistic. Let's party with Marty indeed...

Oh, I should add at this point, this preview won't be in two parts, in case the title was misleading... I'm on about the fact that we're playing them twice in two Saturdays... But you knew that... Right?

Sunderland Team News

Surprisingly, given the amount of games that we've played recently, including the extra-time battle against 'Boro and the horrendous conditions that we had to endure at Stoke City, the squad is holding up extremely well. However, somewhat frighteningly, the only injury concern that we have this weekend is over the one that has been dubbed as 'sexy', Mr Sessegnon. It would be an undoubted blow to lose him on a weekend when we are taking on the defensive pace of Per Mertesacker, but in O'Neill we trust.

With Connor Wickham fit enough to come off the bench against Boro, O'Neill may choose to start him up front against Arsenal, however it may be more likely that the pacy Fraizer Campbell is preferred, despite still coming back from injury, with either Craig Gardner or Kieran Richardson playing behind him. Although it is my view that Ricco has been excellent at left back this term, comments in the press have led me to think that O'Neill might see him in a more advanced role at some point, and with Wayne Bridge a ready made replacement for him, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see him playing off Campbell.

Aside from the enforced change, if it comes about, with Sessegnon, the team may well be the same that took on Middlesbrough on Wednesday night.

Arsenal Team News

Following last weekend's demolition of Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal will be coming into this game with a sense of optimism that they've been lacking for a while.

With no apparent injuries since that encounter, a fully-fit squad means that they have a number of options with which to hurt us.

The form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been extremely encouraging for the Gunners, and he should start on the left, with the hit-and-miss Theo Walcott on the right. Up-top, we have the unenviable task of keeping Robin Van Persie quiet. The rest of the Premier League have tried and failed to do it up to this point, and it will be a huge test for the defence that O'Neill chooses on Saturday to try and keep him at bay.

Predicted Line-ups

SAFC: Mignolet, Bardsley, Turner, O'Shea, Bridge, Larsson, Gardner, Colback, McClean, Richardson, Campbell

Arsenal: Szczesny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arteta, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Song, Coquelin, Van Persie

Classic Encounter

With our visitors' demolition of Blackburn in mind, I'm travelling way back to September 12, 1953 for this week's classic encounter, when 59, 784 fans at Roker Park watched Sunderland batter Arsenal 7-1.

Obviously, I'm going to be struggling for Youtube's help this time around, so you'll just have to put up with a short match report instead. That sound okay? Good. Here we go.

Although the Gunners arrived on Wearside as champions for this clash, they were suffering something of a hangover, and were yet to win in the campaign, this being their eighth game. Sunderland weren't fairing much better, and had picked up just one win in their last six games.

The game did however mark the home debut of summer signing Billy Elliot (no, not the dancing kid), who went on to become something of a legend at our club, becoming a trainer for the 1973 team, and stepping in as caretaker manager on two occasions.

Arsenal frontman Doug Lishman put the visitors a goal to the good, before Trevor Ford equalised, with Len Shackleton supplying the assist, before Elliot marked his first start at Roker Park with the second goal before half time.

The second half was something of a riot, as Shackleton turned finisher for the third, before Ford added his own second to make it 4-1. As Sunderland's confidence grew, Arsenal's wilted, and two goals from Tommy Wright made it six, before Ford completed his hat-trick.

If Carlsberg did matches against Arsenal...

Get Rich Quick

Okay, so my last attempt at this didn't bring home any money, but onwards and upwards and all that, yeah? However, once again I'm going to go all positive (ish), and see if we can't do a little bit better this week than against Stoke, betting wise.

  • Okay, I won't lie. This first one isn't super positive, but it is super realistic. I'm going to actually try and win us some money, and say that, as little as I want it to happen, Robin Van Persie will score at any time. The odds? A quite magnificent 5/6 with PaddyPower. Do I know these odds are crap? Yes. However, I'm just looking to actually win a bet for once.
  • Next up, taking into account that RVP will probably notch against us, I'm going to hazard a guess at the score as 2-2, with the Dutchman getting the first goal. Again with PaddyPower, you're looking at about 35/1 on this one.
  • If you are in the party mood though, maybe a sneaky Sunderland win? First goal Campbell and a 1-0 scoreline brings in fantastic odds of 50/1. With the form our front man has been in recently, who are we to say that isn't a money spinner?
  • And finally, a last goalscorer punt on either Larsson (14/1) or John O'Shea (50/1) is showing up pretty strong in my crystal ball. Why not go for something a bit different, and take a punt on the big man from the back popping up with a goal?

Song For Whoever

With more than a nod to our visitors this season, and the multiple clashes that I mentioned at the beginning of this preview, I've gone for a band that not everyone will have heard of, but, you should do.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Sound of Guns, and their track, Collisions.



Prediction

This is a tricky one to call. By all means, we should be approaching the game with every confidence, that is just what O'Neill has done to us since he took over, but we shouldn't forget what a good team Arsenal are while doing so, and, as I've said, in Van Persie, they have one of the best front men in the world.

So, with that in mind, I'm going to plump for an entertaining 2-2 draw, and, a week in advance, say that I think we'll win the FA Cup tie next weekend.
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