It seems like an age ago since our two respective sides played out a 0-0 draw on the opening day of the season, how would you assess what would appear to have been a turbulent term for The Gunners?
Ted Harwood: Assessing Arsenal this year is tricky mainly because they've been so inconsistent. There are a group of matches from which they've scored about four goals on average, and then there are a group of matches--the majority of them--where scoring even one has been agony. This probably has been the case for a while, but having players like Robin van Persie or Cesc Fabregas before made things look smoother. This year, it's taken a little bit of time for the side to really come together, but Olivier Giroud seems to have found his rhythm now at center forward, and if the defenders can stop having moments of madness, Arsenal should be more consistent to finish out the year.
Theo Walcott has been the subject of much debate this year, both with regards his contract and best position on the pitch. It must have been a relief to see the lad finally put pen to paper and let his football do the talking, which has spoke volumes recently?
TH: It was. It was, mainly because Arsenal don't have anyone else who can do what Theo does. His pace is a good counterweight to the technique of the other attackers--when he's not in the side, Arsenal can struggle to get behind defenses and create chances. Deeper-lying teams can still give him issues if he comes inside, but he has now brought his pace together with crisp finishing and strength to hold off most challenges. His crossing has also improved.
Santi Carzola has been a delight to watch as a neutral. As someone who watches him week-in-week-out how valuable is he to Arsenal?
TH: He is quite valuable. I think people maybe got a little too excited in August and September, but he is a valuable player. Unfortunately, he's hardly had a chance to rest most of the season--he has the most minutes under his belt of anyone on the team--and this has meant that recently he's looked a little sluggish. When he's sluggish and struggling to create chances for Giroud, Theo, and Lukas Podolski, things bog down. Jack Wilshere's return has helped Santi probably more than anything, because Wilshere drives forward more easily than Santi does. Arsenal seem to do a little better when Jack can take up a no. 10 position and allow Santi to move out wider. Santi also has lost his shooting touch a bit recently, but overall, he is still very valuable, being one of our most creative players.
Will Wenger ever sign a decent keeper?
TH: I think Szczesny is pretty good. He still has issues on corners at times, but he's also only 22.
And whats with that coat of his?
TH: He does like that long coat. I don't know why. It's sort of a bizarrely long, weird looking thing. The zipper breaking was highly amusing.
Sorry, I got distracted... A quiet transfer window for Arsenal. Whilst Nacho Monreal comes with a lot of promise, is Santos really that bad to force Wenger's hand following Gibbs' injury?
TH: Santos was okay at times last year as an attacker, but he's never been a solid defender. He came with that reputation. Unfortunately, injury and lack of match fitness have made him a liability. Monreal was slated to come in the summer either way, but Gibbs' injury moved that up the agenda. I think people would've liked to see some more depth at striker come in and maybe also a defensive midfielder/destroyer, but we know that Wenger has specific targets in mind usually, and we know that he doesn't like to pay over what he thinks a player's value is. Strikers were hard to come by this window (Ba aside).
On to Saturday, should be a good game, how can you see Wenger setting up his side to win the game?
TH: Wenger doesn't like to alter things too much to suit different situations, so a fairly standard setup should be in order. The one thing that makes that a little tricky, of course, is the internationals this week. For that reason, players who have rested such as Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby will probably start in midfield. Cazorla will probably return as an attacking mid. Jack Wilshere may need some rest, and so might Theo Walcott. Gervinho has returned to the squad, so he could feature and let Walcott come off of the bench. If Arsenal are chasing a result late, Wilshere and Walcott would probably be the first off of the bench in that case.
Conversely are there any areas in the Arsenal side Sunderland could look to capitalise upon?
TH: Bacary Sagna is a bit out of form, and Per Mertesacker is slow. If speedy wings and forwards find room to attack, I'd guess that it would be up the left side. On paper, Danny Graham and Stephen Fletcher both should be players that Mert can handle, but with Arsenal's defense, there's always another fun little incident around every corner.
Any Sunderland player in particular you believe could cause you problems?
TH: The best way to disrupt Arsenal and get straight at their defense is to constantly press in the midfield, and Sunderland have had some success with this approach in the past; for some reason, that sounds like a Lee Cattermole job to me, but I guess that depends on whether he is declared fit for Saturday.
Finally, a prediction?
TH: I think it will be pretty tight. I'd say 1-1.
Many thanks to Ted for joining us this week. Be sure to check out The Short Fuse post match for their perspective on the game and give the guys a follow on Twitter if you are that way inclined. We also answered some of their questions too, which you can read here.