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The Opposition View: Arsenal FC (A)

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Mike Francis from leading Arsenal fanzine 'The Gooner' stopped by to give us the view from the other side ahead of Saturday's tough away fixture at Arsenal.

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The Arsenal injury list seems to be increasing week on week. Is this a good time for Sunderland to play you lads or have Wenger’s men been coping well with the mounting issues?

Results over the last few weeks suggest we’ve not been coping well with the issues and although a couple of players may be back from injury in time to face Sunderland, all that will really do is compensate for the injuries picked up against Norwich (Sanchez and Cazorla). So, yes, it’s probably a good time to play us.

The Norwich game at the weekend didn’t quite go as planned, with a number of players going down injured and the chance of going level with the league leaders missed. Do you think it was a fair result?

It was a fair result based on the respective levels of performance. Hugely disappointing from our perspective though, especially as it followed the defeat at West Brom the previous week.

November hasn’t been particularly brilliant for you lads, only taking two points from a possible nine in the league. What do you put that down to?

For some reason November has always been the month when we’ve struggled and picked up fewer points on average than any other month. It’s hard to point to a specific reason for this though. Sometimes it’s been because it’s the quality of the opposition, but more often than not it seems to be when injuries bite hardest. Given that it seems to happen every year you have to think there’s something not right with our training or conditioning methods.

Do you have faith that the team will pick back up with a win at the weekend, or are you sceptical of facing a Sunderland side that have proven resolute and hard to beat in recent weeks?

Unfortunately you can never be quite sure which Arsenal team will turn up on the day. Even with all the injuries we’ve got, I’d like to think we’ve more than enough quality to beat Sunderland, but I’m a long way from being confident we will. I think that comes from seeing us turn up expecting to win too often. It’s an arrogance which stems from the Invincibles team, but they had the ability to back up the attitude whereas we are just not good enough to warrant that level of complacency.

A win could possibly take Arsenal to the top of the league, provided other results go your way. How do you fancy your chances this time around? It would seem Wenger has prioritised the league over cup competitions this season, and with a fully fit squad firing on all cylinders you certainly have the firepower to do it.

I think the key words in your question are “fully fit”. I don’t recall the last time we had a fully fit squad in all honesty. My view regarding whether we can win the title has fluctuated quite a bit over the last 6 months. When we bought Cech at the start of the summer, I felt he was a key acquisition who could make the difference between being top 4 and genuine title contenders. However, this view was also based on an expectation that we’d bring in a couple of other players before the transfer window shut at the end of August and when we didn’t, there was a feeling that we’d left ourselves short again. Have to concede though that up until the end of October I was optimistic we’d be able to run City close, but with the run we’ve just endured all that optimism has been sucked out of me and I’m now expecting our usual battle to ensure we finish in the top four.

Have you seen much of us in recent weeks, and, what are you expecting from Big Sam’s men?

I’ve seen the Match of the Day highlights of your games, but that’s about it. I don’t think it’s any surprise that Allardyce has made you more difficult to beat - it would have been hard not to in all honesty! There’s a view that we’ve often struggled against his sides and that was probably true for a couple of seasons at Bolton, but not so much since. He’s made no secret of the fact he loves to beat Arsenal and Wenger in particular which I’m sure the media will play on in the build up to the game. I’m pretty sure he’ll get plenty of stick from the home crowd.

Ex-Sunderland forward Danny Welbeck is the only current Arsenal player to pull on a shirt for both clubs. How has been been since arriving?

Disappointing really. I thought it was a good signing for the money (c.£16m), but he just doesn’t seem to possess the real goal-scorers instinct to be in the right place at the right time and has only scored a handful of goals, although the one which knocked United out of the FA Cup last year was especially enjoyable for him and us. Unfortunately and worryingly, he’s been out injured since February and a comeback doesn’t seem to be imminent.

What sticks out for you when you think of games against Sunderland in the past?

Hmmmm… I’m struggling to recall many to be honest. That probably suggests we’ve had a number of routine victories without ever really thrashing you. Possibly the most notable incident was the injury Abou Diaby received when “tackled” by Dan Smith  back in 2006. It was the start of Diaby’s injury hell and was a terrible challenge which most Arsenal fans have not forgotten or forgiven. One of our contributors often does a round-up of previous matches against our weekend opponents which appears on onlinegooner.com on Thursday and Friday, so I'll be reading that to see if I've missed any obvious ones out. Will hopefully be interesting for Sunderland fans as well.

Be honest, do you think Sunderland are going to do it again and stay up?

Now you’ve got Allardyce, yes, I think you probably will. Not by much though and only because there look to be some very poor sides around. Villa look doomed and Newcastle (much to your enjoyment I’m sure) don’t look much better. Bournemouth have done remarkably well to even reach the PL and I thought they might have enough about them to stay up at the start of the season, but with the injury to Wilson in particular I think they are going to struggle in the second half of the season. Then there’s a batch of clubs – Sunderland, Norwich, Watford and Swansea – who will probably all be looking over the shoulders.

Who do you see causing Sunderland problems this weekend, and why?

Sanchez – no he’s injured. Cazorla – oh no, he’s out too. Coquelin – ditto. Wilshere – errr…. are you spotting a pattern here? Worryingly (from my point of view), I’m struggling to name someone. Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably our most direct player who will be fit to start and there will be a lot expected of Ramsey in Cazorla’s absence. If Walcott is back then I think he’s the sort of player who will trouble your defence but I suspect he’ll only start on the bench at best.

Similarly, who do you think in the Sunderland side can cause Arsenal bother? Duncan Watmore and Yann M’Vila stand out a mile right now for us, so will be interesting to see how they fare against top opposition.

Watmore has certainly caught the eye in recent weeks and up against Mertesacker he is an obvious threat. We are often susceptible to quality set pieces and in Seb Larsson (an Arsenal youngster as I’m sure you know) you have one of the most consistent crossers of the ball around so I’ll be hoping we don’t give away too many free-kicks in positions where his delivery could hurt us.

Finally – a score prediction please!

I’ll go for a tight 1-0 or 2-1 home win. Don’t be surprised if the winner comes late.