MARTIN O’Neill is eager to have Lee Cattermole back at his disposal for the final third of the season, although the Sunderland skipper continues to suffer knee pain, writes Chris Young.
Cattermole was in the squad for last weekend’s Premier League defeat at Reading before O’Neill opted to take a cautious approach with the midfielder, who has played just 15 minutes of first-team football since November.
Sunderland had hoped a further week of training would see Cattermole back in contention for tomorrow’s Stadium of Light clash with Arsenal.
But the 24-year-old felt fresh discomfort in his knee at the Academy of Light earlier this week and remains a doubt to face the fifth-placed Gunners.
O’Neill admits Sunderland have missed Cattermole during his absence through medial ligament damage and is anxious to see the former Middlesbrough man return to the fray, with 13 Premier League games remaining.
The Sunderland boss told the Echo: “Lee made himself available at Reading, but I didn’t want to take the risk because there’s no need to rush players back.
“But on Tuesday, he did the training and felt a bit of something.
“We had another look at him yesterday and we could do with him for the last third of the season.
“We’ve missed a bit of presence there in midfield at different times.
“Through no fault of his own through injury, he’s missed a chunk of the season where we’ve had to do without him.
“We’ve got through some of the games, but it would nice to have him back for the final third of the season.”
Cattermole is O’Neill’s main injury concern tomorrow, with Sunderland’s international contingent reporting back for duty unscathed yesterday afternoon.
Fit-again Danny Rose is expected to return to the starting line-up at left-back after being introduced from the bench at half-time at Reading last weekend.
And O’Neill knows his defence will be tested against the Gunners, with only Chelsea and Manchester United netting more goals than Arsene Wenger’s side this season.
But O’Neill has taken heart from Sunderland’s recent performances against Arsenal.
The Black Cats suffered a late defeat in last season’s corresponding fixture before knocking the Gunners out of the FA Cup at the Stadium of Light a week later and then recording a goalless draw at the Emirates on the opening day of the campaign this time around.
“Going forward, Arsenal are playing very well indeed,” added O’Neill. “I thought their performance against Liverpool 10 days ago (a 2-2 draw) was excellent attacking-wise.
“They’d naturally be disappointed with the goals conceded in the game, but Liverpool played very well and it was an excellent match.
“Arsenal have got very capable players and the younger players in the side are improving rapidly and it looks as if they’ve got a reasonable balance.
“That said, we played them last season in successive weeks – one in the league, one in the FA Cup – and I thought we could have won them both.
“We played them again on the opening day which was an excellent result for us away from home.
“They’re difficult to deal with, but we should go into it thinking we can win this match.”