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No need for Arsenal to be superstitious about lifeless Black Cats

Image courtesy of ‘You are my Arsenal’

It’s Sunderland away and I remember how hard it has been for us to beat the Black Cats either home or away for the last two seasons, no matter who was in charge. There was that 2-0 away with a brace from Alexis after Mannone spilled his beans twice, a hard-fought 3-1 at the Emirates last December and two 0-0 draws, the last of which still gives me nightmares. Our overall record against Moyes’ team is better than I make it sound (I’ll snap to it in a second), but you get the idea and probably recall our last encounters just as vividly as I do.

Head-to-head

As per BBC, Arsenal actually lost only once in the last 25 games vs the Black Cats (9 draws, though) and none at all in the last 13. Also, we won 4 out of 5 last away games (the one we didn’t I mentioned above; it’s also the most recent one).

It gets better when you look at the figure of David Moyes, who’ll be watching the game from the stands. Basically, he’s one of Arsene’s favourite punching bags, losing to the Frenchman 14 times in the league (of the possible 24).

That’s right, David, 14

Finally, Sunderland are off to their worst league start in 17 years, with just two points from 9 games. While no world beaters, such a start is atrocious even for the Black Cats. However, seeing as we failed to beat Middlesbrough only last week, Petr Cech urged caution with this one:

“I think they should have more points than they have so far, because they had games where they lost in the last minute and dropped a lot of points in the last five minutes of games.


“But during those games they have been doing much better than it shows in the table. This season everything is really tight so the small details make a big difference and for them it has made a big difference in terms of their number of points.”

I’m with the big man on this one. Though I don’t think we have been complacent last week, at least not to the point where it cost us two points (it was more the question of tired legs, application and missing certain players), we can’t think “it’s only Sunderland, they are rock bottom, easy three points”. Cause we will definitely pay for such an approach.

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Even without complacency we nearly dropped points last week

Team news update

The hit we take from midweek is Lucas Perez. The Spaniard damaged his ankle ligaments and Wenger was furious at Denzell Gravenberch, the bloke who did this:

“We’ve lost Lucas for a while with an ankle injury. I think he’ll be out for six to eight weeks.

“It’s very frustrating because he worked very hard to get there. Of course he is absolutely gutted, because it’s an injury coming from nowhere, and a stupid one, because it was a deliberate kick. It’s a similar tackle to [the one from] Xhaka [against Swansea], but there was no red card. But the red card would not have helped Lucas. What is most important is that he’s out for six to eight weeks.”

Wenger rarely allows himself to be so liberal with his judgements when it comes to questioning referees, so when he does you know there’s a damn good reason behind it. And look, it wasn’t all fluffy and innocent, that challenge. So I’m on board with the gaffer completely.

In less grim news, we should have both Giroud and Ramsey available:

“They are available for selection. I have to be a bit cautious, especially with Aaron Ramsey, because he has not played at all yet. He has only had one week with the team so I will be a bit cautious with him.”

They are back!

So no start for the Welshman most likely and that returns us to Wenger having to reshuffle his pack in midfield if Cazorla too doesn’t make it. Fingers crossed he will, however. We can give him a break during midweek if he needs it, that with Xhaka becoming available after the Sunderland game, but it’s vital the Spaniard makes it in time to start at the Stadium of Light. He may not be a panacea to all ills, as Wenger quite reasonably observes, but we do know for sure Coquelin and Elneny don’t cut it against mid-to-low table teams.

In a final, and slightly alarming, bit, Theo Walcott and Nacho Monreal are both facing late fitness tests with hamstring and muscle tightness problems respectively:

“There is a slight hamstring alert, a very minor one. He [Theo] will have a test today (Friday). He should be OK for Tuesday. If it’s not tomorrow, it’s OK for Tuesday.

“Monreal has a little muscle tightness.”

Squad

That makes guessing the squad a bit harder and more interesting. I’ll take a positive slant here, however. Ever the optimist, eh? Not just because taking a positive slant makes my job easier, no, certainly nothing to do with that.

On a more serious note, even if Monreal and Walcott don’t make it, Gibbs and Ox have been pretty bright this season when presented with a chance, definitely on Tuesday. So, while Theo is a more natural finisher than Alex and Monreal is perhaps defensively more sound than Gibbo, I have no problem with playing either of them and don’t think it should affect our chances of getting the result.

Another stellar midweek showing from the Ox

With Cazorla it gets trickier. Wenger will have to put on his thinking cap and get crafty in central midfield. With no Xhaka, WIlshere (yes, I’ll keep banging this drum) and a not-fully-fit Ramsey, Arsene’s options are pretty limited. If it’s not Elneny (and it really shouldn’t be Elneny), then he either takes a punt on a youngster (Jeff, AMN, Zelalem) or reshuffles things further up field.

Personally, I’d think about the second option. Maybe I’m seeing things where there really is nothing to see, but Iwobi has been deployed at 10 vs Reading. Dress rehearsal before Saturday? Ozil deeper with Iwobi at ten?

Another option is Alexis at ten, with Ozil deeper, though this means a start for Olivier Giroud up front. No that I’m against it, God knows I love the bearded Frenchman, but I was rather getting across the point our options up front can be on the thin side without Perez and potentially Walcott to also retract Alexis from the equation. Though taking Iwobi leaves us in pretty much the same position… Damn. Please, Santi, just make the game.

C’mon, you little fella

Finally, Ollie G. I think there’s a case to be made for starting our number 12 even with Alexis available. Sunderland is exactly the type of team to put men behind the ball and hold on for dear life. It restricts space in the final ⅓ (look at me, using the big words), rendering Alexis virtually useless. However it leaves space for our midfielders to thrive, so throw in Iwobi and Ozil in there, quick!

Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Kos – Mustafi – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Iwobi – Walcott – Alexis (see what I did?)

The verdict

Anything less than three points will be considered a failure and that’s the way it should be. Arsenal have too much individual quality to lament the absence of certain players and hide behind their unavailability. And if you think I’m being overly harsh, I’m just borrowing ideas from Arsene Wenger:

“Against Middlesbrough, people said ‘Santi did not play’, but I believe we had enough domination, enough quality to win the game on the pitch, and that’s where we have to find the solution even when Santi is not there.”

So just get the points under the belt and next week we’ll have a couple of more players available. Hopefully.

C’mon you Gunners.

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