21 February 2014

Sunderland Preview: Cazorla-Yaya strike up a partnership

After a tough string of fixtures, a visit from Sunderland comes as something of a relief as, for the first time in what seems likes ages, we’ll face a squad without aspirations to silverware. However, the match is no less vital from our end as these are precisely the kind of points that championship-calibre teams seize. For Sunderland, currently in the drop-zone but with as many as eight other teams a mere four points way, nicking a point could represent a sizable coup, not to mention a huge morale-booster.


In other words, no rest for the wicked, as the saying goes. Tempting though it may be to pencil in a victory ahead of time, we would do well to be wary. Sunderland are actually a bit tougher away from the Stadium of Light, taking 13 points from 12 away-matches compared to 11 points from 13 matches at home. While neither is enough to lift them from the drop-zone, the Black Cats’ recent run has seen them lose just once in their last ten from all competitions, building some momentum for the run-in after an up-and-down first half of the season anchored them to the very bottom of the table. Their focus may be on the League Cup Final or FA Cup quarterfinal, but Gus Poyet seems to have them very much on the right track in the Prem as well, with players apparently buying into his methods and living up to his demands.

Coming off of our 0-2 defeat to Bayern, by contrast, might threaten to undermine our confidence and leave us ripe for the plucking by an ambitious team fighting to avoid relegation. However, the manner of the defeat suggests to me that a fierce rebound is in the offing. It’s one thing to be utterly dismantled but quite another to lose by the same margin because we were a man down. Yes, the away-goals deficit is identical to last year’s, but the feeling is different. Last year’s 1-3 loss seemed to knock loose all of the fillings; this year’s 0-2 feels more like something that slipped away. This may bode ill for Sunderland. I’d wager that more than a few among our squad are looking for someone to take out their frustrations on, and, lo and behold, here are the Black Cats.

When we last met back in September, the in-form Giroud, Ramsey, and Özil combined to share three goals and two assists among them in a 3-1 win at the Stadium of Light. This time through, we may see a starting XI bereft of all three. Ramsey, of course, is out injured. Giroud may again be rested due to a variety of physical, mental, and existential niggles, and Özil looks about as weary as they come. With another rugged string of fixtures coming up, this may be the one last chance to rest him and Giroud without undermining the title-tilt. With Yaya Sanogo showing flashes of potential, it would be intriguing, perhaps even exciting, to see what he can do against lesser opposition.

However, the real man to watch in my opinion is Santi Cazorla. Having been subbed off early in the Bayern match in order to make way for Fabianski to replace Szczesny, he should be fit and eager to make up for lost time. I'd look to him to link up with Sanogo, who has impressed me so far in bits and spurts. At the risk of going out on a limb, then, not knowing who will actually answer the call (or get a call in the first place), I see a brace from Cazorla and a break-through goal for Sanogo.

Final score: Arsenal 3-0 Sunderland.