I have to admit, I’m surprised just how well Arsenal’s season has gone thus far considering the amount of injuries to key players there have been but I suppose Wenger and his players deserve credit for the way they’ve handled that. Do you think Arsenal have what it takes to win the league this season?
Well, yes, but I've believed Arsenal have what it takes to win for the last three seasons, soooo…
Anyways - this season is definitely set up well for Arsenal to win. Nobody's running away with things yet, and Arsenal are top right now with approximately 956 players injured, so when everyone gets back to health, one would think that the good times will continue to roll.
Arsenal, as we all heard last week, were the most successful English team in 2015, and I see no reason for that form to dip; Özil is playing out of his skin right now, Sanchez is not far behind, and the much-maligned (by some, not by me) Olivier Giroud is finally proving to most what a lot of us already knew - he's good.
With that in mind, is the FA Cup seen as a priority or do you think Wenger will save his best players for the midweek game against Liverpool?
Arsene Wenger is famous for, among other things, resisting the idea of squad rotation as much as possible. That said, injuries and the hectic holiday period have forced his hand a bit, so he will definitely be bringing in some fresh legs for Saturday.
Most notably we’ll likely see David Ospina come in to goal for Petr Cech. Arsenal always take the Cup seriously, and as winners of the last two I don't see that changing this year; you won't see a squad of kids and reserves, but you'll probably see Hector Bellerin and maybe a few others who are challenging for first team places currently.
Sam Allardyce has already hinted he won’t be fielding a particularly strong side as we have an important relegation six pointer against Swansea just a few days later – do you feel by doing so he’d be disrespecting the cup or, putting yourself in his shoes, do you think he has no choice but to prioritise the league game?
If I were Sam Allardyce, I'd throw everything I had at the league. I'm not sure that I buy the ‘disrespecting the Cup’ argument whenever it comes up, for any team - it's not like Sunderland will be fielding a team of twelve year olds and part-timers, after all. Teams have to prioritise what they think will be best for them, and in some years, that means playing a weakened team in the Cup.
Not for one minute do I believe he or Sunderland don't care about or want to win the FA Cup, but there are more important things at stake this season.
Do you think Sunderland will stay up AGAIN this season?
I do have to plead a bit of ignorance about this question, because I honestly don't see much of Sunderland other than highlights, but from what I have seen, I can say that I feel that Sunderland are definitely better than Aston Villa – wait… this is a real compliment - which means that there are only two relegation spots to be had. If Sunderland can get a result against Swansea next week, I think that sets them up well for a run at survival.
When you think back to games against Sunderland, which ones stick out to you and why?
The one that jumps immediately to my mind is a match from February 2012 when Thierry Henry scored in the final minute of the match to give Arsenal all three points. Any excuse to remember Thierry Henry fondly is one I will grab with both hands.
Sunderland’s best player this season by a country mile has been Yann M’Vila, someone that was heavily linked with a move to your club a few years back. Do you think that Wenger could go back in for him in the summer?
Ah, Yann M'Vila. Over the years, Arsene has been very...strategic in his player acquisitions, to the frustration of many. One of the positions that fans have long thought Arsene and Arsenal should buy in is the defensive midfield role that Yann M'Vila plays, and as you say Arsenal were linked with M'Vila a while back and continue to be so to this day, for some reason (this summer, we were briefly pondering running a series on all Arsenal's potential midfield transfer targets - and there are many that the fans want - and calling it "It Takes An M'Vilage").
Anyway, to answer your question: I don't think Arsenal will be in the M'arket for M'Vila (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) this summer, for a few reasons - firstly, Francis Coquelin's surprising emergence as a quality DM has lessened the urgency of the need. Secondly, they're reportedly on the verge of signing Mohamed Elneny from Basel this week or next, and finally, the M'Vila deal initially fell apart (reportedly) because of attitude/maturity issues with M'Vila, and even if he has matured, Arsene Wenger tends not to revisit deals that fall apart for non-football reasons.
The last time we met was in November in a fairly close game that I felt Sunderland were unlucky to lose – do you think it’ll be as close this time around?
I honestly don't know - Arsenal looked horrible and jaded against Southampton, and got their butts handed to them, but then bounced back and won while also looking ugly against Newcastle. I believe Arsenal easily have the quality to win, but Arsenal's stumbling block lately has been focus - if that's off, anything could happen.
Wenger is pretty famous for being very selective when it comes to transfer business – do you foresee any signings happening in the January window?
As mentioned above, a deal for Basel's Mohamed Elneny is ninety-nine percent done (awaiting work permit clearance, I believe), and as much as Arsenal fans tend to want to buy everyone, Arsene Wenger probably won't. He has said he'll be ‘busy’ over the January window, but he is also notoriously quiet about what he's actually doing, so who knows.
I wouldn't be surprised if he bought another player (a defender, probably), but I also wouldn't be surprised if he didn't. He has said in the past that it's harder to find value in January, so while he's not afraid to deal if it's right, he won't do something just for the sake of doing it.
Who in the Arsenal team do you think will cause Sunderland problems in Saturday’s game?
Well, Alexis Sanchez is due to make his return Saturday, so that's the easy answer.
If Özil plays, he'll also cause problems, because nobody is better at finding and exploiting spaces left by defenders.
Similarly, who from Sunderland do you feel could be the difference if the game is close?
The MLS fan in me says Jermaine Defoe - he'd score the winning goal just to spite me.
Finally – a score prediction, please?
Score prediction? I'm really bad at these, but given that it's a home game, I'm going to say 3-1 Arsenal.