FOR the first time this season, Sunderland face one of the Premier League’s top clubs when Arsenal visit Wearside on Saturday.
A disappointing one point from the opening three fixtures, all against teams, who in all probability will be in the bottom half come May isn’t the sort of form you want to be taking into a game against a team of such quality.
Arsenal seem to have recovered well from an opening day home defeat to Aston Villa and have strengthened their team significantly with the signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid.
Arsene Wenger is often accused of being reluctant to spend big in the transfer market, but with the signing of Ozil, costing more than £40m, they have changed policy and perhaps made a statement of intent.
So Sunderland’s task on Saturday is a daunting one against a team who play attractive football and regard the ball as their own personal property.
The middle of the park, I feel, will be Sunderland’s biggest challenge, Arsenal are so strong there, with player comfortable on the ball and patient in their wait for the killer pass.
Paolo Di Canio will be weighing up all his options, both on his team selection and how he sets his team up tactically to face the Gunners.
Three new players, in Fabio Borini, Ki and Andrea Dossena, add to his options and I am hoping that Jozy Altidore and Craig Gardner, who both missed the last game with injuries, are fully recovered and will be available to the manager for selection.
I’m wondering if the manager will try to match Arsenal’s strength in the midfield area by changing the tactics he’s used so far.
Will he add another body in the middle, possibly at the expense of one of the strikers, to stop the risk of being over-run by the Gunners?
It would be maybe look like a negative move, jettisoning a front-man for a midfield player, but with three in the middle instead of two, this would allow Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini to operate further up the pitch and might suit them better.
Whatever tactics Di Canio goes for, it is still 11 v 11 and every game has its own unique challenges in the Premier League.
The manager will know that if he gets it right and the players respond and we can claim the scalp of Arsenal, it will give great confidence to the dressing room and send the morale of the fans into orbit.