Arsenal’s victory over local rivals Tottenham Hotspurs was followed by the acquisition of the German playmaker Mesut Özil for a club-record fee of 42.5 million pounds. Sunderland’s last game ended in a resounding 3-1 defeat away from home against the newly promoted Crystal Palace. After the international break, the Premier League resumes this weekend with some very important fixtures. Lingering at 19th in the league table with a solitary point, Sunderland prepare to host Arsenal, who on the back of 2 victories are fourth.
It is certain that on Satuday, the focus will be more on Arsenal’s recent buy than the game itself, but I expect Di Canio’s side to put-in a spirited performance at the Stadium of Light. On paper, it appears to be an easy game as one team is looking to challenge for the title and the other trying to move into the top-half. Sunderland are difficult to beat at home but the absence of John O’Shea can prove to be costly and Arsenal will put their resilience to test.
Here’s an in-depth statistical comparison of performances (so far this season) of 3 players from each side that I feel will be key to their respective teams in the game.
I. Modibo Diakité vs. Per Mertesacker:
Featuring in 2 games, Diakité has played for 180 minutes, while Per Mertesacker has played all of Arsenal’s 3 games and been on the field for 270 minutes. Arsenal have conceded 4 goals so far this season and Sunderland’s defense has been breached 5 times. Not a significant difference here but Arsenal have been able to score more goals than they have conceded, hence the difference in standings. Statistically, Modibo Diakité has been in better form than Per Mertesacker. The statistics are impressive for both but the Frenchman leads Arsenal’s Big Friendly Giant in almost all the defensive comparisons, as is evident from the table above. Per has made 15/17 successful clearances (in 3 games) as compared to Diakité’s 21/22 (in 2 games); Per has made a total of 12 Duels (ground + aerial), whilst Diakité has 22. Diakité has a 100% Ground Duel and 54% Aerial Duel success rate (67% and 56% for Per).
Coming to the Stadium of Light on a free transfer, Diakité has done fairly well. However, his team’s results undermine his individual contribution. Per has been the backbone of Arsenal’s defense and been very consistent since January this year. Neither of the players have made any errors that resulted in goals for the opposition. That said, these two teams have conceded 3 goals in one game on 1 occasion each, against a ‘not-so-fancied‘ opposition, and their defenders need to play with better co-ordination to deny the opposition’s attackers goal-scoring opportunities, and hence achieve their teams’ respective objectives. In the absence of a proven defender like John O’Shea, the onus will be on Diakité to take his game to the next level and become the back-bone of his team’s defense.
II. Adam Johnson vs. Theo Walcott:
Johnson for Sunderland and Walcott for Arsenal have been on the pitch for almost the entire duration. Johnson has completed a pass every 4.29 mins and Walcott every 4.41 mins, although both have been erratic at times and highly inconsistent in general. The statistics may not reflect that but their performances prove my point. Walcott has a passing accuracy of 80%, as compared to Johnson’s 73%. Their mins per cross are almost identical, but Walcott has a 45% accuracy, and sent in crosses with 18% more accuracy than Johnson. Walcott created a chance every 29.89 mins and leads Johnson, who has created a chance every 33.75 mins. Neither of the players have been able to find the back of the net in the league thus far and will be itching to get off the mark. Walcott has provided one Goal Assist, whereas Johnson has not been able to provide any assists. Theo has attempted a shot at goal every 33.63 mins, while Johnson has taken a shot every 38.57 mins.
It will only be fair to say that both the wingers have shown only flashes of their brilliance so far. With so much potential, one only wonders if they will ever be able to do justice to their talent. The statistics may not be very encouraging but I am optimistic that they will soon hit top-form and play at their very best.
III. Jozy Altidore vs. Olivier Giroud:
Jozy Altidore has been one of Sunderland’s 10 signings this season. Paulo Di Canio has shown his ambition in the transfer market but unfortunately, the signings haven’t yet done justice to the manager’s faith. Moving from the Dutch league to the English Premier League, the American has found the going a little difficult. On the other hand, with an experience of 1 year in the league, Giroud seems to be becoming the player that Arsenal dearly wanted him to. He has been scoring at will, albeit he has missed a couple of sitters here and there.
Altidore, in his 2 appearances, has not found the back of the net in the league and taken a shot every 36 mins with an accuracy of 67%. Giroud, on the other hand, has scored in every league appearance so far, with a goal every 84 mins (best in the league). With 3 goals at an impressive conversion rate of 33%, Giroud is the joint leading goal-scorer in the league. He has taken a shot every 19.38 mins with an accuracy of 44%.
Jozy Altidore will be desperate to get off the mark in the league, whilst Olivier Giroud will be looking to add to his tally. It may not be a very closely-contested game but it sure won’t be a dead rubber. Both the teams have a lot to play for. A favourable result at this stage will go a long-way in deciding the teams’ standing in the league and a slip-up will most definitely derail their plans for the season.
Like I said earlier, the focus on Saturday will be more on Arsenal’s latest signing Mesut Özil than the game. The pressure will be on the star playmaker to get into the groove and showcase his talent if and when given the opportunity. This and the fact that they are not expected to get anything out of this fixture may work in Sunderland’s favour. A draw would be a good result for them but I expect Arsenal to settle for nothing less than a win. It is not advisable to make any predictions because of the nature of the game and the competitiveness of the league. Sunderland must take heart from Hull City’s win over last year’s runners-up and fight till the very end.
Please note that the comparisons made and inferences drawn are based purely on statistics, which may not always correlate with the actual performances of the players. Some of you may have a different point of view or may look at the statistics differently, so feel free to share it with me here or on twitter (@SilverHawk_24). Until next time, this is me signing off.