These two teams head into the upcoming Premier League weekend with very different objectives and very surprising form. Former league leaders Arsenal have endured a somewhat rocky two weeks, with a heavy defeat to Liverpool and a crucial home leg loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League giving a louder voice to claims that their season is on the brink of falling apart at the dreaded February stage of the year. It could be worse, the Gunners sit in second position just one point behind London neighbours Chelsea, they do, however, head into this game with a worse run of form than opponents Sunderland.
The Black Cats have undergone something of a revival since Gus Poyet was drafted in to replace Paulo Di Canio and the North East side have won three of their last five league games – although they do still sit in the relegation zone. In contrast, Arsenal have won just two of their last five games, but they did win five in a row not long ago so this can be viewed as a small blip, for now.
Arsenal’s injury troubles have been well documented all season and the amount of bodies entering the physio’s office shows no sign of slowing down. Wenger’s side are currently hampered by six injuries to some key personnel, with the worst miss being Aaron Ramsey who is out until mid-March with a thigh muscle strain. Theo Walcott is another big miss for Arsene Wenger and the English winger is out until the summer with a dreaded ACL injury. Midfielders Diaby and Kallstrom, a January acquisition, are still sidelined with ACL and back injuries respectively. Whereas, defenders Gibbs and Vermaelen are suffering from hamstring and calf injuries – the former picking that injury up in the defeat to Bayern Munich. A non-injury worry for Wenger is the state of mind of striker Olivier Giroud who is dealing with problems at home – the French striker was left out of Arsenal’s crunch Champions League fixture against Bayern Munich in favour of young starlet Yaya Sanogo.
In comparison, Gus Poyet has a fairly healthy squad with just three injuries hampering his team selection. The most frustrating of those three injury worries is that of Steven Fletcher, his calf injury has kept him sidelined for some time, however, he could be fit for this game if he passes a late fitness test. Carlos Cuellar is another Sunderland player who could be fit for this game after progressing with his thigh injury. Goalkeeper Westwood is still out with his long term shoulder injury, former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone will continue in his place.
As a collective unit, Arsenal have made more tackles than the Sunderland team – 510 to 477. This is surprising, as you’d expect Arsenal, who have more of the ball and defend less, to need fewer tackles.
Arsenal have been the much better side in possession of the ball with 86% of their open play passes finding a teammate compared to Sunderland’s 78%.
Sunderland have made 8,110 accurate passes this season, this sounds like a lot of passes but this figure pales in comparison to Arsenal’s huge 13,323 accurate passes.
The difference in class when it comes to offensive quality can be seen in the accuracy of each team’s final third passes. Arsenal hit 77% of their final third passes accurately compared to Sunderland’s 65%.
Sunderland have made just 22 clear-cut chances this season – a chance where the attacker is expected to score a goal – compared to Arsenal’s 45.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has endured somewhat of a frustrating season so far with injury, meaning he couldn’t get his season going until recently. However, the talented English midfielder doesn’t seem to have been hampered by his long term injury and the former Southampton man has set about replacing Theo Walcott as Arsenal’s main right winger – although he has displayed composure in central midfield too, with two goals against Crystal Palace and a man of the match display. Those goals are his only league goals this season but he’s scored those in just seven league appearances, three of those as a starter, and with just three on-target shots. Despite only having a small sample to look at, it is still impressive that the young England international has a 100% clear-cut chance conversion rate – most talented attackers look for a figure between 50-60%. Nicknamed “the Ox” because of his strength on the ball, Chamberlain still exudes all the qualities expected from an Arsenal player, with an open play pass completion percentage of 83. He also passes forward with more than a quarter of his passes (27%) but that’s not as many as Sunderland’s key man – Adam Johnson (32%).
Adam Johnson is having one of his best Premier League seasons this year and the English winger has scored seven goals – alongside three assists for his teammates. Johnson is enjoying one of his most creative seasons: the former Manchester City player has created seven clear-cut chances for his teammates so far this season, leading to Roy Hodgson considering him for a place on the plane when England jet off to the World Cup in Brazil. Johnson’s impressive creativity continues when you see that he creates a chance for his teammates every 48 minutes (a chance being any kind of shooting opportunity). Bizarrely, the Sunderland man hasn’t been involved in a single clean sheet in the league so far this season! This is surprising given that Sunderland have kept seven clean sheets – a decent return, which sees them level with top four chasing Liverpool.
Despite the Gunners looking a little shaky in recent weeks you have to say they’ve played against some top class opposition, so the inconsistent results are to be expected in this difficult phase of the season. However, this is a must win game for Arsenal with their tough fixture list looming large ahead of them – this is easily one of the most winnable games remaining on their calendar. Sunderland will be hoping that Johnson fires again but I can’t see them getting anything from this game and I’m sure Poyet will just be looking for a decent performance from the Black Cats rather than expecting a win. I’ll go for Arsenal 2-0.