Sunderland vs. Arsenal: Team News, One’s To Watch & Much More

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Arsene Wenger will have a near enough full squad at his disposal as his side looks to maintain a strong finish to the Premier League and claim third place in the process.

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The Gunners trained with everyone in the first team fit for the first time since 2013, something that has sadly come too late to be a benefit for their campaign.

Arsenal’s best possible outcome for the season now looks like automatic Champions League qualification, and to do ensure of that then three points will be a must at the Stadium of Light.

It’s a completely different story in the North East with Sam Allardyce on the final hurdle to achieve Premier League safety for yet another side, and the fixture schedule hasn’t been kind to the big man.

There’s no doubt that the Black Cats need to pick up something from almost every game to keep up to speed with relegation rivals Norwich and Newcastle, and Arsenal marks the start of that fight.

Sunderland have shown resilience whilst defending their goal, but it’s down the other end of the pitch that they’ve failed to pick up goals, with Jermaine Defoe coming to their rescue yet again last week.

Team News

Arsenal

It’s not often that Arsene Wenger gets to report some good news when it comes to the squad’s injury list, but everyone is back in full training with the first team.

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Despite that factor, a couple of names will be slightly short to make an appearance this weekend, with Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain waiting to regain match fitness.

However, there should be a big ring of cheers from the away end when the teams get announced, with Jack Wilshere in line to make a return to the squad following a trio of Under-21 appearances.

Other than that, it will ultimately come down to the best starting XI that can pose a threat right from the off, with Thursday nights game meaning Wenger could opt for some fresher legs.

Arsenal Absentees: Santi Cazorla (fitness) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (fitness)

Sunderland

The good news for Sam Allardyce is that he has a pretty similar squad to the one that thrashed Norwich 3-0 last weekend, but does he stick with the same line-up?

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There is doubt over the fitness of Jermaine Lens who is currently suffering a slight bug, he’ll be checked over before the game before any decision is made to risk him.

Meanwhile DeAndre Yedlin is another player that will face a late decision, he’s recovered from an ankle injury but could be too quick to make it make into the starting team.

One To Watch

Arsenal – Per Mertesacker

Not usually a man to be featured in a preview piece but this could be the start of the end for Mertesacker unless he begins to cut out the silly mistakes.

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The German replaced Gabriel in the starting XI for the 2-0 win over West Brom, and although he was relatively unfazed by a Baggies attack, this weekend will be incredibly different.

Sunderland will attack with absolutely any chance they can get, and you can bet on set pieces playing a huge part in the outcome of this fixture.

Mertesacker has to show that he belongs in this side and he’s running out of chances to do so, his partnership with Koscielny could be vital to a strong end to our season.

Sunderland – Jermaine Defoe

You could easily say that if it wasn’t for this man, Sunderland would be sitting right next to Aston Villa at this stage of the season, staring Championship football in the face.

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However, his goals have provided some glimmer of hope for these fans and despite his age the former Spurs striker is capable of beating any defence on his day.

He’ll be rubbing his hands if Mertesacker starts, because his trickery and ability to chase long balls in and around the defensive line is what makes him such a nuisance to deal with.

Defoe has 16 goals in all competitions for the season and he’ll be eager to add to that tally, he’s shown he’s still capable of top-level football so he’ll be itching not to get sunk with Sunderland.

Likely Line-Ups

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck

Sunderland (4-2-3-1): Mannone, Yedlin, Kaboul, Kone, Van Aanholt, Cattermole, Kirchhoff, Borini, M’Villa, Khazri, Defoe

Prediction: Sunderland 2-2 Arsenal

There’s nothing predictable about any fixture in this crazy Premier League campaign but I expect Arsenal to fall off their focus again this weekend.

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This fixture means ten times more to Sunderland and I expect them to fight until the last second to pick up whatever they can from this tie.

If it wasn’t for a superb performance from Alexis Sanchez on Thursday evening then it would have been more of the same from this Gunners side, and failure to finish chances has been the story of their season.

Sunderland pose a strong defensive record recently and with Danny Welbeck misfiring it’s going to be difficult for Arsenal to control this game from the off.

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