NO matter how much he dislikes it, it’s no surprise that the manager is under pressure and being openly questioned going into this game.
His team have under-performed and a poor start to the season, which has included a painful derby defeat, has left them hovering just above the relegation zone.
Despite having managed in the Premier League for over a decade, questions are being openly asked not only about his tactics, buying strategy and ability to hold on to star players, but his very future.
You’ve got to feel sorry for Arsene Wenger!
Pressure comes through expectations and while Sunderland fans now expect their team to produce mid-table form at least, Arsenal fans expect their club to be competing continually for a top four place – 15th in the league just isn’t good enough, especially after more than half-a-decade without a trophy.
In all honesty, you can’t see this being Arsenal’s season either as the manager eschews the idea of buying a team for the indulgence of building one.
The failure to buy in star players has led to the departures of several that he had – Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
And while Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Gervinho have been brought in to fill the gaps, they have yet to show they are the players to take the club forward.
None of the old problems that have be-devilled them for years, appear to have been successfully tackled – the need for a world class keeper, the lack of physical presence or a solid central defensive partnership and the failure to find a fox-in-the-box who will relieve some of the pressure on the injury-prone but lethally effective Robin van Persie.
But while Arsenal are not good enough to win the league, they’re more than good enough to comfortably beat a struggling Sunderland line on home turf this Sunday.
Sunderland can expect van Persie to lead the line and pose the most obvious danger but with Arsenal goals can come from all angles and the pace of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott will have to be particularly watched, should they play.
On-loan Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner will miss this game and that is a real blow to Sunderland, especially as the in-form Dane has been the club’s best player in the last two games and his physical presence up front and his ability to hold the ball up will be missed.
There has been talk emanating from Steve Bruce of playing Ji up front on his own, which would mean Stephane Sessegnon dropping into a five-man midfield on the left.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if the suggestion, coming from South Korea, about Ji against Arsenal, will prove as illusory as when Bruce was suggesting to South Koreans in the summer that Ji could start against Liverpool.
Whatever happens, Bruce will play a 4-5-1 in order to try and contain one of the finest passing sides in world football and deny them the freedom of midfield.
A more likely selection though could be Sessegnon on his own up front – he may be small for the role and not an obvious choice but he scored his three goals in five games at the end of last season from this position.
That would allow Seb Larsson on the left wing, Ahmed Elmohamady on the right and any three from the four obvious candidates to flood the centre of the pitch.
The outcome of the game will depend largely upon Sunderland’s competence and character.
Competence, to avoid Arsenal taking a lead in the early stages of the game; character, if Sunderland do find themselves going behind early in the game.
Sunderland have done OK against in Arsenal in recent seasons but league wins have eluded them.
Their last league victory was in 1983 and I can’t see that statistic changing this Sunday.
My head says it is likely to be a home win. But I’ll go with my heart.
Verdict: Score draw.