Our estranged friend Daniel Williams is currently suffering from major plumbing problems across the Channel, so I bring you his chat with Arsenal Blog The Chronicles of Almunia's very own Sam Drew on his behalf. Thankfully Dan's issues are with his abode rather than anywhere more intimate and he should be back with us as soon as the French Super Mario Brothers can patch up his pipes.
Anyway, back to the business at hand...
We meet again, Arsenal. Obviously you beat us in the Premier League last weekend, where do you think the game was won on Saturday?
Sam: Arsene Wenger's substitutes were a big part of us getting the win. He's been criticised recently for his use of the subs but at the weekend he utilised them perfectly; two of them scored while the other set up the winner. We never usually like going up north, especially when the pitch is a little suspect to say the least, so it would be naive to say it was our free-flowing football that made the difference. It was mainly that we kept pushing for the three points and never gave up, and kept putting the ball into dangerous areas.
Were you always confident of getting a result?
Sam: No! Like I said we usually struggle away to Sunderland - I think we had four 1-1 draws in a row at the Stadium of Light - so I wasn't sure we'd be able to come away with three points. We usually struggle to break you down so I was expecting that to be the case again, especially with Martin O'Neill in charge. I think Henry and Arshavin offered us something a little different - Arshavin's willingness to get direct and precise balls into the box, and Henry's desire to finish those balls off. We've been pretty poor away this season especially so if I said I was confident we'd win at any point - even 93 minutes - I'd be lying.
Did anyone in the Sunderland team stand out and look dangerous?
Sam: Watching the game on a dodgy stream didn't help my cause but I thought McClean lived up to his recent hype. He did well to pounce on Mertesacker's stumble and fire past Szczesny, and had a decent overall game on the wing. Sessesgnon troubled us a few times through the middle as well, always looing to thread a pass through and he caused us a few problems.
Last time out, we had just played to extra time on the Wednesday night. This time, you have a midweek clash away at Milan. Can we expect to see big changes to the team for the cup clash?
Sam: We'll probably rotate a bit, but I can't imagine that we'll put an entire second string team, because we'd have no chance! Suffice to say our back-ups aren't the most reliable; Chamakh, Park, Arshavin and Squillaci haven't shown enough about them to trust them all, but we should see a few back-up players like Benayoun coming in as part of Wenger's rotation policy.
With the Milan games in mind, will Wenger be putting out his 100% strongest side in this one?
Sam: I can't see it. I think this season we're putting more emphasis on the FA Cup so we'll definitely see a fair few of our strongest XI, but like I said we should see a couple of players on the fringes of the team brought in. Aaron Ramsey's looked knackered lately, so we might see Rosicky continue, depending on who plays against Milan. Francis Coquelin might fill in for Alex Song too, because our midfielders in general haven't had much rest this season due to the injuries to Diaby and Wilshere.
How high up Arsenal's list of priorities is the FA Cup this season?
Sam: Definitely higher than in previous seasons. The league title is, barring a miracle, gone, and the Champions League is still pretty far from our reach, so right now the FA Cup is our greatest chance of success. Arsene will want to win something to silence his critics, and with United and City out already we've got a decent chance of going far in the cup. While the draw is stuff, with all due respect it could have been harder so we're hopeful of getting to Wembley.
Where do you think the game will be won on Saturday? Henry's gone, so who is going to cause Sunderland the most problems?
Sam: Depends on who starts really - if we have Chamakh he might be a threat in the air if we can get crosses in, but if we play RVP or Park it'll probably be up to the wide players to get in behind the defence like against Blackburn. I can't really see our midfield having much effect - the pitch will probably put paid to that as our passing won't be anywhere near as effective, like at the weekend - so we'll probably be relying on our front three.
Having seen us only a few days ago, and taking into account we should have the team back up to full fitness, who do you see causing Arsenal a problem or two?
Sam: Probably the same two, McClean and Sessegnon, will give us a bit of a headache, as well as possibly the promising Connor Wickham if he plays a part. Craig Gardner's also a good player and his shooting prowess could do some damage to us - we'll need Szczesny (or Fabianski but it's unlikely) to be on top form. We'll need to make sure that Seb Larsson doesn't get a chance from a set piece because we know better than anyone how good he is from those situations.
And finally, can we get a prediction?
Sam: I'd probably say it'll be a draw and go to a replay. I can't really see us scoring more than once, or preventing you from scoring either, so it may just end up as another 1-1 at the Stadium of Light. Maybe we'll snatch a 1-0 win - we might have Koscielny and Vermaelen as our central defensive partnership once again which has seemed impregnable when they've played together. But like I say, I'm not expecting us to score more than once.
Many thanks for Sam for joining us ahead of the game. You can find more of his stuff at the following spots on the interwebs: Lifes A Pitch's Arsenal Blog and over on Sabotage Times.