JOHN O’SHEA says Sunderland must keep their composure while they are playing catch-up with their relegation rivals.
Sunderland head to second-placed Arsenal tomorrow looking to emerge from the relegation zone after falling to third bottom, below fellow strugglers West Brom, on goal difference.
Should the Black Cats succumb to a second successive Premier League defeat this weekend, it could mean a lengthy spell in the bottom three for Gus Poyet’s side, who are in cup action on each of the following two weekends.
Sunderland will be two or three league games behind their relegation rivals when they resume their fight for survival and captain O’Shea says the players must block out the hype over their league position and concentrate on gaining the victories needed to beat the drop.
O’Shea told the Echo: “You have to keep a cool head, even though there’ll be pressure added because of the way things are with the TV and the press.
“They always say it’s better to have points on the board than games in hand.
“It will call for cool heads, but we have to be clinical too. We have to win the matches that we need to win.”
O’Shea is a veteran of fierce tussles against the Gunners from his Manchester United days.
And he is under no illusions about the size of Sunderland’s task tomorrow against an Arsenal side who haven’t conceded a Premier League goal at the Emirates since December.
But the 32-year-old says Sunderland are confident they can buck expectations after a six-game unbeaten run on the road.
“I’ve been involved in some great battles against them over the years,” added the Republic of Ireland centre-half.
“But they keep the ball very well too and we’ll have to do that as well because when they get the ball, they tend to keep it for a bit.
“We wouldn’t have feared going to Arsenal, even if we had lost against Southampton (last weekend).
“The way we’ve approached things recently and the form away from home has been good.
“We just have to keep that going and be fully aware of Arsenal and the threats they have.
“They had a big game during the week (the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich) so we’ll wait and see how they react to that.
“They’ve had a fantastic season so far and they’ve got some fantastic players.”
O’Shea will again be partnered by Santiago Vergini in central defence tomorrow, with Wes Brown completing his two-match suspension.
* Don’t miss the online Football Echo tomorrow – with the biggest coverage of Arsenal v Sunderland – plus much more. It’s available on sunderlandecho.com or the Echo app from around 6.45pm