IT’S back to Premier League action for Sunderland this weekend, when they travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal.
Sunderland will be very much the underdogs on Saturday and will have to be at their best to get anything at all from this game.
The Gunners are right in the thick of the title race, just a point off top spot and will be expecting nothing less than three points from the fixture with Sunderland.
A trip to the Emirates is always a popular away day with Sunderland fans and with the away allocation having been sold out for weeks, the fans will go to London determined to enjoy themselves.
On the pitch, the biggest challenge for Sunderland could be getting the ball.
Arsenal’s game is all about possession and ball retention and the Sunderland players will have to be ready for a tough 90 minutes of chasing and closing down.
The Gunners greatest strength lies in midfield, where they have so many quality players to call on, all capable of scoring or producing a killer pass.
Record signing Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta are all headline grabbers but one who maybe doesn’t get the attention that others do, but always impresses me, is Santi Cazorla.
He has great vision and technique and makes Arsenal tick. He’s always one of those players who is equally strong with either foot.
Gus Poyet likes to flood his midfield and I expect Sunderland to play with three central midfielders as usual, so the middle of the park, and who controls it, will have a massive bearing on the outcome of the game.
For all Arsenal’s strength though, they have only taken five points from the last 12 and suffered a heavy defeat at Liverpool in their last Premier League game and with Sunderland’s away form in the league currently better than it is at home, they should go to the Emirates with a positive mindset.
This is another of those games where Sunderland will not be expected to win, so in that respect the pressure will be off.
The fact that Arsenal are second in the Premier League table will mean the national media will have a great interest on Saturday and that makes it a high profile glamour game.
These are the sort of fixtures to relish rather than fear and if the team can produce a shock result, it will make the rest of the Premier League sit up and take notice and can enhance the players’ reputations significantly.