A welcome win just three days ago saw Arsenal return to third place – overtake Manchester City – and retain the slim hope they might just catch rival tottenham.
Manchester City however, had other ideas. They were the second team to knock four past Stoke in a week, after spurs did the same thing to them on Monday, to reclaim what may be a valuable third spot.
With Liverpool lurking dangerously in the Europa League, if they were to ultimately claim the trophy, it would mean that the usual fourth place ruling – which would see the fourth placed team claiming a backdoor into the lucrative Champions League – would be undone.
So third place or bust it would seem.
The pressure heaps back on the Gunners with City winning again, and a trip to the Stadium of Light is a game that isn’t as easy as the table suggests.
Led by the dogged Sam Allardyce, Sunderland will be scrapping for every single ball and it will require an Arsenal that are pumped for the occasion. An appetite for battle will also be necessary, and the showing given by Aaron Ramsey in the victory over West Brom on Thursday will give reasons for optimism.
The Welshman struck up a fruitful looking partnership with the equally box-to-box skills of Mohamed Elneny, and Ramsey’s passing accuracy was quite excellent. With ‘Big Sam’ no doubt opting to pack the midfield and suffocate the game, Wenger must choose between these two, Coquelin and the returning Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere.
It is thought that the Spaniard and Englishman will make the bench, but it is a sight to warm the cockles of Gooner’s hearts. Their presence has been sorely missed and their impending return will no doubt help Arsenal’s cause.
Wenger not only has selection headaches in midfield. Olivier Giroud started the game on Thursday and put in a competent performance, but his drought continues – it is now 13 games without a goal. Danny Welbeck will be keen to play against his former side – he of course played on loan there whilst on Manchester United’s books – and his lethal form should give him the edge. The physical presence of Sunderland’s defence may just give Giroud a runout however. With Sanchez back on fire, Arsenal will have a wildcard though.
Mesut Ozil continues to wait for an assist, despite his good all-round play. The German will look to the runs of Sanchez – who is on fire of late – and Welbeck, so his laser-guided passes can find a target. A lot will depend on if Lee Cattermole will play. Allardyce will task one of his charges to mark the Arsenal dangerman, and the niggly Cattermole will be a big test.
Per Mertesacker returned to the side, after his replacement Gabriel put in some below-par performances. The big German was the sage head that Arsenal needed, and he will surely keep his place. He will need all of his nous though, with a certain Jermain Defoe on the prowl. Defoe has scored nine in fourteen games in 2016 and he will rest on the shoulder of the significantly taller Mertesacker, in a bid to race away to the goal.
There is plenty of history between Allardyce and Wenger, although the hostility has cooled somewhat recently. Allardyce will go with the method he envisions will reap rewards – so a tight game filled with gamesmanship and stoppages is on the cards. Can Wenger fulfill his wish of winning the rest of our games and ensuring another year of elite European football?
Can we put some pressure on spurs? A win against the Black Cats would certainly help.