Four contenders to replace Jermain Defoe for Sunderland’s clash at Arsenal

Jeremain Lens

Jeremain Lens

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The diagnosis on Jermain Defoe was better than Sunderland had initially expected, with the England international expected to be back in contention for next week’s crunch clash against Watford.

But Sam Allardyce will still have to cope without his joint top scorer at Arsenal this weekend, as Defoe fully recovers from a hamstring problem.

Who will replace Defoe at the Emirates? Here’s four options available to Allardyce:

1. Fabio Borini

The Italian has featured just once in the last five games, with a persistent ankle problem hampering his efforts to contribute towards Sunderland’s renaissance.

Allardyce didn’t even turn to Borini from the bench when Defoe limped off against Stoke last weekend, with Duncan Watmore preferred to the £10million summer capture.

But Borini’s work-rate and readiness to chase down defenders is perhaps well-suited to a game where Sunderland will spend long portions of the encounter on the back foot.

2. Duncan Watmore

There were a few flashes from Watmore on his first Sunderland start against Southampton last month, yet he suffered from the poor ball retention of his team-mates.

But Watmore has perhaps learnt from that experience, with the 21-year-old impressing from the bench in Sunderland’s two subsequent outings, which have both culminated in victory.

Watmore is clearly at the forefront of Allardyce’s thoughts and with pace likely to open up on the counter-attack at the Emirates, the England Under-21 international could have room to do his damage.

3. Adam Johnson

When Allardyce initially experimented with a 3-5-2 at Everton, Johnson was one of the beneficiaries after being handed a free role behind Defoe and Steven Fletcher.

In hindsight, that set-up was clearly seen as too gung-ho by Allardyce and Johnson was one of those regulars sacrificed when the second incarnation of the three centre-half system was used at Crystal Palace.

But Johnson has been itching to feature, contributed off-the-bench last weekend and has the experience to play in the number 10 role behind Fletcher.

4. Jeremain Lens

Sunderland’s big-money summer signing has found no place to hide under Allardyce, with the Sunderland manager’s use of statistical analysis immediately identifying players whose work-rate is lagging.

But Lens contributed to Sunderland’s back-to-back wins as a substitute - immediately making chances for Yann M’Vila and Sebastian Coates last weekend.

If used as one of the front two, Lens’ defensive responsibilities would lessen too and he clearly has the pace and attacking quality to trouble Arsenal on the break.