23 April 2016

Please let's just score early so Mike Dean can't screw us over...

We've been offered a gift, and we'd do well not to look this one in the mouth. Just days after dropping points from a winning position for the second straight matchday, a result that dropped us from third to fourth with a wary eye on Man U creeping up behind, we witnessed the heretofore unthinkable as lowly Newcastle bravely held Man City to a draw. Suffice it to say, we now owe Toon a small debt. While we now have an inside track on fourth, we have to make the most of the opportunity. We can start by doing Newcastle a solid by smashing Sunderland on Sunday.

That's not the same as saying it will be easy. Whereas we can pin at least a part of our win over West Brom to the fact that the Baggies feel that they're safely ensconced, the Black Cats have had to fight for some brave results in recent weeks as they struggle to stave off relegation. If anything, they are on a bit of a roll, having taken seven points from their last six fixtures, a modest improvement on the 23 points they've taken from their previous 27 (they have a game in hand). Without making too much of last weekend, they did go into Carrow Road and blitz the Canaries 0-3. 

That's an uncharacteristically prolific scoreline for a squad managed by Sam "don't call me the Walrus" Allardyce. Looking past him to that squad, we see a few familiar faces ranging from former Gunners to potential Gunners. A few Spuds pop up as well. Jermaine Defoe leads the line with 13 goals, three of those against Norwich. Behind him, Yann M'Vila and Lee Cattermole will try to clatter and abuse those who foray through the midfield. Between the sticks, of course, is an old friend in Vito Mannone, who's done well for himself over there even if not quite bathing himself in glory.

Still, whoever it is we're facing might matter less than the man supervising the show: Mike Dean. Let's just say that it's a remarkable coincidence between how often he's refereed our matches and how often wev'e ended up short-handed. As we did against West Brom, we have got to score first and seize control of this thing before Dean can pull off any of his shenanigans.

At our end, it's getting harder and harder to resist the idea that Alexis is enjoying himself on the right. Since slotting over to that side, he's gone for five goals and two assists in five matches, looking every bit as lethal and incisive as he did for the entirety of the 2015-16 season. It's hardly going out on a limb to suggest that he'll be one to watch on Sunday. 

Ahead of him should probably be Giroud rather than Welbeck. Welbeck has sputtered of late, and we could do with the more-physical presence that the Frenchman brings. For what it's worth, Giroud did acquit himself quite well against West Brom despite slogging it out against a few Cro-Magnon centre-backs. For as well as Iwobi links up with Welbeck, we have to go with who's in form, and Alexis seems to flourish when it's Giroud who puts his shoulder to the wheel of whatever defense it is we're facing. 

LAST 3
Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland (09.01.2016)
Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland (05.12.2015)
Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland (20.05.2015)

FACTFILE
Arsenal have not lost to Sunderland since 2012.
Arsenal have scored 15 goals in their last six matches against Sunderland.
The two clubs first clashed on 1 August 1904, a scoreless draw.

INJURIES
Arteta, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosický have all been ruled out. Flamini faces a late fitness test.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Coquelin, Ramsey; Iwobi, Özil, Alexis; Giroud.

Despite the stubbornness Sunderland have shown in recent weeks, Arsenal should fight through to seize all three points.

PREDICTION
Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal.