Five reasons why Sunderland can keep the momentum going at Arsenal

Sunderland's Steven Fletcher gets a shot away at goal under the challenge of Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny.
Sunderland's Steven Fletcher gets a shot away at goal under the challenge of Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny.
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Sunderland have not triumphed at Arsenal since a 2002 League Cup victory, albeit last season’s draw sealed their Premier League survival.

But with confidence levels much-improved after back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke, Sunderland will sense the possibility of adding to their points tally at the Emirates on Saturday.

Here’s five reasons why Sunderland can make it three games unbeaten with a point or three from this weekend’s encounter.

1. Arsenal’s injury concerns

Arsenal have sufficient strength in depth to field a second string XI which is still stronger than the options available to Sam Allardyce.

But Alexis Sanchez, Laurent Koscielny and Santi Cazorla are integral figures for the Gunners and the loss of the trio, who all limped off in last weekend’s draw at Norwich, is a blow for Arsene Wenger, particularly with Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin already on the treatment table.

With Wenger inevitably having half an eye on next Wednesday’s deciding Champions League clash against Olympiakos, the Arsenal boss will have to shuffle his pack astutely.

2. Allardyce’s record against Wenger

Allardyce got the better of Wenger on four occasions during his Bolton days and there was no love lost between the pair, as the Arsenal manager bemoaned the Trotters’ tactics.

As Allardyce writes in his autobiography: “He’s a fantastic manager, I cannot deny that, but the more I could wind him up, the more I liked it.”

This will be Allardyce’s first meeting with Wenger as Sunderland boss and he will hope to continue frustrating the Frenchman.

3. Sunderland’s renewed defensive resilience

Allardyce’s work on the training ground is clearly beginning to pay off, with a team which proved to be such a soft touch earlier in the season registering back-to-back clean sheets.

With the 3-5-2 formation looking an appropriate fit for the options available to Allardyce, Sunderland will inevitably set up as they did at Crystal Palace - aiming to soak up any pressure and then muster a threat on the counter-attack.

The longer Sunderland can prevent Arsenal opening the deadlock, then the better in terms of frustrating the already-subdued crowd inside the Emirates.

4. Space on the counter-attack

Sunderland could easily have sealed their Premier League status with victory, rather than a solitary point, at Arsenal last May, with Steven Fletcher and Will Buckley spurning glorious opportunities on the counter-attack in the second half.

The more and more Arsenal press for an opener this weekend, it will again open up opportunities for Sunderland on the break.

Whether they start or are introduced from the bench, the likes of Duncan Watmore and Jeremain Lens will have space to exploit when Sunderland venture into the Arsenal half.

5. Happy memories from last season

It was an emotional night at the Emirates when a weeping Dick Advocaat thought he had brought down the curtain on his career by steering Sunderland to Premier League survival.

Advocaat was rightly proud of his players after a display of guts, commitment and dogged determination as Sunderland ground out the goalless draw which was sufficient for them to mathematically confirm their top flight status.

For many in Sunderland’s line-up on Saturday, those memories will still be fresh, with the Black Cats requiring a similar display of determination to come away with another positive result in north London.