Matthew Crichton: Arsenal have won their last three Premier League matches and sit fourth in the Premier League - are fans now starting to believe that something special is happening under Mikel Arteta?
Matt Dawson: As soon as Arsenal fans dare to dream, the house comes tumbling down so many supporters seem to tread carefully at the moment.
Although we finally occupy a spot in the top four - the eventual goal of this campaign - it was only a few weeks ago that we lost to an Everton side in complete disarray who hadn’t won a game of football since late September.
However, the signs are positive and there is a definite plan; to recruit young players and build for the future. I’m certainly a fan of his vision but I still need to see Arteta’s in-game management improve.
MC: Across the summer the club focused on signing youth over experience - do you think that gamble is now starting to pay off given the form of the likes of Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Martin Ødegaard?
MD: Many raised eyebrows over the quality of Arsenal’s recruitment in the summer and I too had my doubts. However, those who arrived at the club have barely put a foot wrong.
Martin Odegaard has come into his own at the moment while Ben White has established a flourishing relationship swiftly with Gabriel at the back.
Aaron Ramsdale, meanwhile, has been a complete revelation and has already worked his way into the fans’ hearts. His never-say-die attitude, coupled with his personality and all-round performances on the pitch have been a joy to watch.
That said, I still think our best acquisition was Takehiro Tomiyasu. Right-back has been a problem position for us for a while but he looks far more comfortable on that side of the pitch than Bellerin has for about three or four years.
MC: After underperforming in the cup competitions last season, do you think the Carabao Cup is Arsenal’s best chance of winning a trophy, and does Arteta need one to keep faith in his long-term project?
MD: Without the FA Cup win in Arteta’s debut campaign as manager at the Emirates, it’s safe to say that he’d be walking on an even thinner tight rope amongst supporters.
A trophy would undoubtedly buy him time and it would certainly be nice to land one but the real end goal this term is finishing in the top four and getting back in the Champions League.
It sounds corny but that would be the real trophy for the Gunners this season.
MC: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was missing from Arsenal’s matchday squad after he was stripped of the captaincy - do you expect him to leave in January, and could he start against Sunderland?
MD: It sounds as though Arteta has completely ruled out Aubameyang playing for the rest of the year and considering he’s training alone, I don’t expect him to feature tonight.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s given until the end of AFCON to get his head right before being reintegrated back into the squad.
I’d be surprised if he left in January but with Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah both out of contract in the summer, there is a real dilemma in that position in the future.
MC: Which Arsenal players have impressed you the most this season and why?
MD: This has been a topsy-turvy season but plenty of players have impressed me.
The aforementioned Tomiyasu has been a rock at the back while Ramsdale has also been a wall between the sticks. However, the player who has taken my eye the most is Emile Smith Rowe.
He’s scored as many goals (7) as Cristiano Ronaldo in the Premier League this season and has been rewarded with his first England cap too. The sky seems to be the limit for the youngster at the moment.
MC: On the other hand, excluding Aubameyang, which players would you say have endured underwhelming seasons?
MD: Arsenal’s biggest underperformer this season has undoubtedly been Thomas Partey. Signed for big money from Atletico Madrid in 2020, it’s never really happened for the midfielder while in north London.
Injuries plagued his first campaign with the club but now with consistent game time under his belt, he’s still failing to deliver. He gives the ball away relentlessly and his shooting is quite frankly appalling.
MC: Arsenal have only lost one match at the Emirates this season which was against Chelsea, what are the factors behind your team being so strong at home?
MD: It’s great to see that we’ve made the Emirates a real fortress this season and there are several reasons behind that.
Our players seem to thrive off playing in front of our own fans and we play with far greater intensity than on the road; that comes down to pressing when out of possession and then being more incisive with our passing in the final third.
What’s also helped is a reliable backline that sets the tone for our more creative players to do what they do best going forward. They now have the freedom to try things and know that if they lose the ball, our defence will actually help out, rather than buckling under the pressure as they have done for the best part of a decade.
MC: Arteta made vast changes for your previous tie against Leeds, which eleven players are you expecting him to start against Sunderland?
MD: This is the first time that Arsenal have had a fixture pile-up this season because we’ve not had European football.
As a result, I’m expecting mass changes: Leno, Cedric, Chambers, Holding, Tavares, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Pepe, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Balogun.
MC: Lastly, Arsenal will be expected to win convincingly tonight, what is your prediction for the final score?
MD: It should be an intriguing encounter with Sunderland having nothing to lose.
I don’t expect us to run riot like we did against West Brom in the Carabao Cup earlier this term but I still back us to win. I think we’ll run out 3-1 winners.