The regular slew of fixctures shows no sign of abating – well, at least until the next infernal international break – but Arsenal have managed to continue their winning run despite the demands placed upon them.
Midweek saw a much changed side from the norm, but the victory was still earned, thanks in no small part to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. His brace allowed EFL Cup progression over Reading, and The Ox may just have secured another start with his mature performance.
Next up is a trip to the Stadium of Light to face bottom of the table Sunderland, but the Black Cats will be no pushovers. Bookies, industry experts and pretty much anyone you are willing to listen to will make the Gunners overwhelming favourites – and rightly so. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the three points are already packed and winging their way back to London Colney however.
Sunderland boss David Moyes will be desperate to achieve his sides first win this season, and despite losing yet again in midweek in the EFL Cup at the hands of Arsenal’s next opponents in the competition – Southampton – they certainly put up far more fight than in previous attempts this season.
The old adage regarding no games being a gimme in this League is unerringly accurate, and the last couple of occasions Arsene Wenger and his men played a team they were heavily backed to destroy – Burnley and Middlesbrough – they got very lucky against one and drew a blank against the other.
So, this game is just another obstacle our team must overcome on the path to potential glory. It isn’t bigger or smaller, just something like all the games that they have to hurdle.
In terms of team selection, Wenger will look to revert to the team which was frustrated against Boro last weekend, but there may just be a couple of significant changes.
Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott all face late fitness tests. With Keiran Gibbs and Mohamed Elneny both playing the last two games within four days, a third in seven may be too much. If Monreal and Santi both pass, they may just go straight into the side. Arsene Wenger intimated that Theo may just return next week against Ludogorets, so The Ox may yet get another chance to shine in Theo’s stead.
There is more good news on the injury front to go with the potential return of Cazorla and Nacho, with the news that Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey have returned to the reckoning. The French striker made a cameo in the EFL Cup win over Reading, and both players will be looking to acquire some valuable minutes.
Lucas Perez will definitely be sidelined though. Wenger confirmed in his press conference for this game that the Spaniard will be out for a minimum of eight weeks with ankle ligament damage. A huge shame for the striker, who had impressed in his few showings so far.
David Moyes will be missing Jan Kirchhoff in the centre of midfield, and he will be a big loss. Lee Cattermole faces a fitness test, but Jermain Defoe and Wahbi Kazri are both fit, and they will carry the main threat to Arsenal’s backline.
Both managers and teams are under pressure, albeit for contrasting reasons, so the game may revert to blood and thunder challenges, with the game being fought in the centre of the park. With the return of Giroud, we have a plan B that may allow us to possess a threat which can pierce a clogged Sunderland area.
Our record is good against the Black Cats – only one loss in the last 25, and four of our last five trips to the Stadium of Light – but complacency has ever been the perennial spanner to title hopes.
We have been lightly singed against Boro and Burnley. Let us hope that we are not foolish enough to burn ourselves properly with the same flame.
We climb to the top of the Premiership with a win. Our stay may be brief, but it will send a loud message. Let’s get it done.
Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Ozil, Ox, Sanchez.
Predicted Score – 1-0 Arsenal.