The chance to pull within a point of leaders Manchester United is on the offing tonight. That will put some pressure on Alex Ferguson and his men ahead of their tricky trip to Anfield tomorrow. Steve Bruce will want to do his former manager a favour by trying to defeat us at the Grove. The former captain of United will bring his Sunderland side hoping to put a dent into our charge for the league title.
We remembered what happened the in the first fixture at Stadium of Light earlier in the season. A deflected block from Cesc Fabregas looped into goal to put us in the lead before Tomas Rosicky missed the chance to put us 2 goals clear by skying his penalty. Sunderland equalised with the final kick of the match, all that in between of Alex Song getting his marching orders for two yellow cards.
At that time, we felt the pain of 2 points dropped and how it may come back to haunt us later in the season. As it turns out now, it may not have such a big impact. As things stand at the moment, provided we win all of our remaining games, we would win the league. There’s the Champions League second leg coming up but we cannot even start to think about that until after the final whistle has been blown tonight.
We will miss a host of important players for this game. From centre of defence all the way up to the attack. In essence, we will miss the spine of the side. Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie are all out injured for one thing or another. Normally that spells trouble for any side but the quality of the others that we have in the Arsenal squad, meant that we won’t necessary feel their absence.
In their place we have Johan Djourou, Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner to take to the field. But it is not only us who are faced with numerous injuries, it is the same with Sunderland. Which means it is a battle of which side can cope better without their more talismanic players. It is not to say that the opponent is weak. We must remember that they did beat Chelsea away, albeit with their best players on the pitch.
The big question for Arsene Wenger is to choose which player to start in attack. The option is a straight choice between Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh. The former is the one in form and should start ahead of the latter. While Chamakh got himself a confidence boosting goal in midweek, it is still too early to expect him to back at his best like he was before Christmas.
As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, between now till the end of the season, Wenger will have to put out his strongest side in every game. No matter what the competition or the opponent, there should not be any resting of players. Not unless they are injured or not fit enough to last the full 90 minutes. To that effect, I expect the line-up to be this;
Without Song, we need another player capable enough to support Wilshere for defensive duties. Sunderland will try to attack through Stephane Sessegnon on the right to provide the ammunition for Asamoah Gyan to score. It’s either Abou Diaby or Denilson to take that role. Though, I’m not opposed to the idea of putting both in the same side and allow Wilshere to take up the Fabregas role.
The best outcome for tonight will be for us to get a good lead in the first half and not still be pushing for the winner towards the end of the second half. That way, the players can take it slightly easy for 45 minutes and prepare for our next big game. In life, things rarely work out to be that easy. Hence, I’ll take a win in any way that can be achieved.
Here’s to a good Arsenal win.