Sitting here staring out of the window at a white landscape is not giving me good vibes ahead Arsenal’s long trip to the north-east to take on a rejuvenated Sunderland. However the weather forecast promises three degrees (so take good care of yourself), and a westerly breeze of 7/8 mph. In Sunderland that is almost summer.
Let’s start, as Arsene does every week in his press conference, with the team news straight from the horses mouth.
“Everybody should be available for Saturday and we have no new injuries. We still of course have Diaby and Wilshere out. Chamakh is now at normal fitness and Gibbs is getting closer as well.”
That guarded mention of Gibbs return suggests Arsene will not be making a decision about his best centre-back pairing for tomorrow. Expect the young left-back on the bench while Thomas Vermaelen continues to cover the flank alongside Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. It will be interesting to see if the BFG is still in the starting line up in Milan on Wednesday.
I doubt the same midfield trio will start both fixtures. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta have a partnership that should not be broken in front of the back four, but I cannot see Tomas Rosicky starting both games. Don’t be surprised if Aaron Ramsey gets a recall at the Stadium of Light. The front trio that tore Blackburn apart should get the opportunity to take up where they left off last week. Pace and a willingness to attack defenders will be key to getting a result against a side who we will also meet in next week’s FA Cup fifth round tie.
Sunderland have survived a nightmare start and change of manager to get within seven points and two places of us. The arrival of Martin O’Neill has transformed them somewhat, and you have to go back to a week before Christmas for their last defeat, an unfortunate single goal reverse at White Hart Lane (whoops, thank you Phil, they lost in similarly unfortunate circumstances by the same score at Stamford Bridge in January). O’Neill and Arsene don’t share the good relationship that the Gunners boss had with Steve Bruce. Both men would like to win this one for a variety of reasons.
At the Grove earlier this season a late Robin van Persie strike sealed the points after former young-Gunner Seb Larsson had netted a free-kick that equalised the skipper’s first minute opener. That was before the departure of Bruce. Expect this game to be every bit as tight. It goes without saying that three points are a real necessity for us in as many of the remaining games as possible. Difficult though Sunderland will be, even harder tests lie in wait. Let’s approach this in the right way and get the job done.
The search for value with the ‘holic pound is an interesting one. The fact that we are odds against, 11/10, tells you the bookies don’t fancy our chances that much. I’m taken with a 1-2 away win, and if you search around you will find that at eights or nines. I have to say, after his showing last week, I really like the Gunners Gaming offer of 27/10 against a goal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
As usual, to those making what will be a long and weather-affected journey, I wish you a good afternoon and a happy outcome. Those of us who will be in the warm, hopefully with a half-decent stream to watch, salute you.
Thank you ‘holics
A big thank you to you all for the excellent responses this last week or so to the pieces by Bergkamp the Man and Steve T. I have to say I enjoyed both of them enormously, and you clearly did as well. It has been a great week of debate in the drinks and the civil tone of the discussion is much appreciated. We may have different ideas about the way the club is being run at the moment, but there is no doubt that we all have the best interests of the club very much at heart.
Have a great weekend ‘holics (and sorry about the Three Degrees gag. When will I see you again?).
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