Chris Young: Sunderland need more of the Wahbi Khazri that turned up against Arsenal

Wahbi Khazri
Wahbi Khazri
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Wahbi Khazri makes no secret that he sees himself as a number 10, rather than confined to the narrow surroundings of the flanks.

“I think my best qualities as a player are when I play just behind the centre-forward, as a number 10,” admitted the £9million January signing over a cuppa at the Academy of Light earlier this month.

The Tunisian’s remarks shouldn’t be misunderstood. He has no issue with operating in his current position on the left, where he was often used by French former employers Bordeaux and Bastia.

At this stage of the season, where graft is as important to Sunderland’s survival prospects as guile, manager Sam Allardyce isn’t realistically going to suddenly abandon the complexion of his midfield trio which has worked well over recent weeks in edging the Black Cats out of the bottom three.

However, with a productive pre-season under his belt and a more intimate knowledge of the English game, it is perhaps an avenue that Allardyce will explore with Khazri next time around.

Then, there may well be an even greater impression than the encouraging signs during the early stages of his Sunderland career.

But Khazri has made his mark on the left – and not just when the adrenaline was coursing through his veins after first arriving at the Stadium of Light.

The 25-year-old’s performance in last weekend’s stalemate against Arsenal was one of the major plus points for Allardyce after bouncing back from being hauled off at half-time in the Norwich win eight days earlier.

He was full of running, full of commitment and produced some quality to go alongside that work-rate, with Fabio Borini rightly making way when Allardyce was looking to withdraw one of his widemen and introduce Duncan Watmore from the bench for the final 20 minutes.

Can Khazri be similarly influential at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow, when the bulk of his best performances for Sunderland have come on home turf?

Certainly, his set piece delivery could be pivotal in breaking down a Stoke defence eager to recover from three four-goal hidings.

As the most creative member of Sunderland’s five-man midfield, Khazri has a pivotal role in the Black Cats’ hopes of remaining in the Premier League.

When Sunderland are struggling to find the net regularly – with three blanks in their last four games – they need Khazri and Fabio Borini to chip in, rather than leaving the whole burden resting on leading marksman Jermain Defoe.

Khazri’s display against the Gunners needs to be the first of several similar contributions in the final flourishes of this season.