Sunderland’s Craig Gardner guns for first-day shock

Hit the bar: Craig Gardner

Hit the bar: Craig Gardner

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SUNDERLAND hope to catch Champions League Arsenal on an off-day tomorrow, says Craig Gardner.

The Gunners have drawn their opening game in each of the past two seasons and the Black Cats midfielder is hoping for a third sluggish start in a row from Arsene Wenger’s men when the 2012/13 campaign gets under way at the Emirates Stadium.

And while he is the first to accept it’s a daunting start to the season for Sunderland – an away game against the side that finished third in the Premier League last term – he points out that sometimes the big-hitters take a while to find their best form.

“To play a top-four or top-five team like Arsenal early in the season is no bad thing,” Gardner told the Echo.

“No disrespect to Arsenal, because they are an unbelievable side, but they might not be firing on all cylinders for the first game of the season.

“Sometimes it takes some of the big teams a few weeks to get into their stride, and the teams that play against them don’t let them play the football they want to.

“If that’s the case, we can get at them and hopefully our fitness will be better than theirs and that will help us get a good result there.

“We want to work hard, be in their faces and let them know they are in for a game.”

Sunderland ran Arsenal close at the Emirates last October – Seb Larsson scoring a spectacular free-kick – before the second of Robin van Persie’s goals ended the visitors’ hopes eight minutes from time in a 2-1 win for the Gunners.

And Gardner says the Black Cats will need to show just as much graft again if they are to get something from tomorrow’s game.

“Hard work is the key to success, no matter what job you’re in,” he said.

“If you work hard, more often than not you get your reward.

“If you defend well and work hard, you always get a couple of chances down at Arsenal. Hopefully we can take one of them.”

Carlos Cuellar is set to make his Premier League debut for the Black Cats tomorrow and yesterday’s signing, Louis Saha, can also expect to be involved.

But there will be no repeat of the opening day of last season when Gardner was one of half-a-dozen new names on the teamsheet for the opener at Liverpool.

Martin O’Neill has so far been unable to land any more of the players he wants to strengthen the Sunderland squad. But, with another two weeks to go before the transfer window closes, Gardner says there is still time to bring in reinforcements.

“The start of last season was different because there were nine or 10 new players,” he said. “No-one knew each other and it took time to get used to playing together.

“This time, with the one or two exceptions, everybody who is here now was also here last season so at least we all know each other’s game.

“There might still be two or three new players still to come in, but whatever happens, happens.”