Rather unusually, the fixture list has worked out quite well for us with this game. There are six days between the Arsenal and Doncaster matches, where usually we’d be lucky to have three days between games, so that affords Lee Johnson the opportunity to really go for it in this game, and reward his ambitious and best players with the chance to shine on the big stage.
Thorben Hoffmann didn’t come to England from Bayern Munich because the limit of his ambition was to play in League One. Dan Neil is a player who has been tipped to play at the highest level, and given he’s making England youth squads now, he’s clearly as good as some of the boys that will be in the Arsenal squad this evening. Nathan Broadhead is in stellar form and won’t play with any fear, especially given the environment he was brought up in at Everton. Pritchard, another who is in great form, was a Premier League player not too long ago - he’ll want to show what he’s capable of.
These are just a few examples, but you get my point - this is a huge opportunity for the lads to show what they can actually do when they go toe-to-toe with top-level opposition.
And, for Lee Johnson this is a chance to pit his wits against the best - just like he did when he led his Bristol City side to the semis in 2018. Like the players beneath him, he’s ambitious and backs himself... he’ll be relishing the chance to get one over on the manager of Arsenal.
Regardless of what Arsenal choose to do with their own selection, I’d go as strong as possible and go for the win. If we manage to come away having put ourselves into the semi-finals of a major competition, that will do wonders for the collective self-confidence of the squad as we head into a crucial period of the season - and makes us a lot more attractive to potential signings when dangling the opportunity to play in the latter stages.
Neil Graney says...
For me, it’s a free hit, but one we should take seriously.
The players get a decent rest before our next game, so why not really go for it? I’d pick a side as strong as possible, perhaps with one or two fringe players such as Hume, who need minutes. Every single player will be desperate to play and show what they can do. The pitch suits our style of play and a positive performance, even without a win, should add confidence to the squad ahead of three very winnable league games.
It’s a huge occasion for the fans too. Regardless of the score, more than five thousand fans will be in full voice in from of sky cameras. We’d need to be 100% and Arsenal to be poor to win it, but stranger things have happened.
Let’s enjoy it regardless!
Rich Speight says...
This game is a fantastic opportunity to showcase how far the team has come in the last 12 months or so. We’ve been so impressive in this competition, particularly when faced with opposition higher up the pyramid. A big pitch, Premier League facilities, hopefully a decent crowd too including 5,000 Mackems full of Christmas cheer. And space, space for our creative players to play in, space for our pacy attackers to run into - the Gunners are not going to sit back.
We see it week in week out, the “smaller teams” raising their game when they visit the Stadium of Light, eager to show that they belong. Add in the TV cameras and we have a mix that could mean Sunderland snatch an unlikely victory. Maybe it’s the time of year, but sometimes if you wish hard enough miracles do happen.
Michael Dunne says...
I don’t know why, but I am not too fussed about tonight’s game.
Games in the league are coming so thick and fast that it’s almost a bit of an inconvenience in my eyes. With a threadbare squad as it is, the only thing I am hoping for is for the players to come out of the game unscathed.
On the contrary, it is a fantastic opportunity and occasion for our young team to show their ability on a national stage. It is rare that we are on TV these days and this game gives the players this opportunity.
I think Arsenal will have a strong team out. Mikel Arteta will see this as a great opportunity for them to get a trophy - I don’t expect him to play that much of a weakened team.
A strong showing from Sunderland and an injury-free 90 minutes will suffice for me.
Malc Dugdale says...
I agree with the bulk of what Michael says. We aren’t going to win this cup from the third division, even if we do prevail at the Emirates. We could well beat a young Arsenal side, but when a sniff of silver emerges in the semis and the final the big guns will come out and deliver the killer blows.
We also cannot risk any more injuries to the threadbare core of a team who are doing a grand job turning over a good league points average right now.
I’d rest all of Hoffmann, Hume (unless he still wants/needs minutes), Wright, Flanagan, Neil, Gooch, Winchester, Broadhead and maybe even Stewart personally.
Get Burge or Patto in nets and let’s go with the likes of Dyce, Almond, Xhemajli, Younger (and Cirkin if needing minutes too), as well Wearne, Benji and others from the youth side. Put Aiden O’Brien back in the shop window too, as cups are the only place he has scored well. Let them use this stage to show the gaffer why they should play down at Donnie in about a week.
I have purposefully missed out Pritch as he didn’t have a great game on Saturday and we will need some seniority in the side. Stewart also needs to get his scoring ramped back up, so give him a subs appearance if you like. Or an injury-free hour.
We all know we are crap when on Sky, so let’s enjoy this but get this out of the way and use it as a learning curve as we go, then get all eyes back on the league.
If we don’t get out of League One this time, we will be even longer waiting to play the likes of Arsenal twice a season. That’s where we need to be, not in League One, taking them on in the League Cup.