Oh Gods this has been one of the worst Nationalism breaks I can remember and it’s finally over. Surely as the rain will fall in Ireland, the Hand of God II, Celtic Boogaloo will rage for months with pundits falling over themselves to one up each other as to what level of hell Thierry Henry has fallen to but for the time being we can put that, mostly, aside and focus on the giant(s) task ahead: getting three points against a hard-nosed and hungry Sunderland team on their home patch.
This isn’t the Sunderland of last year who were more than happy to come in to Emirates stadium and play to a 0-0 draw. This is a Sunderland team which has spent very heavily in the last few years and really added some spine to this team. Lorik Cana in particular has added an absolute boatload of fouls to Sunderland’s league leading tally, and he’ll be back after serving his one match suspension for 5 yellow cards. Cana will be tasked with keeping Arsenal’s skipper, Fabregas, from extending the torrid scoring streak that he is on from midfield. For many Arsenal fans, this will be the first time that we get to see supposed Summer target, Lorik Cana up close. Will we regret not buying him this Summer? Tomorrow will tell.
Darren Bent, up front, is a huge handful and has proven that with 8 league goals and having scored against top class competition in Chelsea (in a loss), Man U (in a draw), and Liverpool (in a win). Though he has also notably missed a penalty against Tottenham, he is a dangerous striker and Arsenal will do well to keep his chances at a minimum.
Fortunately some of the parts of Sunderland’s notorious spine are missing for tomorrow’s match: Bent’s huge strike partner, Kenwynne Jones, is out with suspension for a stupid red card and Michael Turner is similarly out suspended due to persistent fouling (are you seeing a pattern yet?). Some of Sunderland’s players are not out due to suspension for fouls but rather out because they are actually injured: Lee Cattermole, who I thought looked brilliant this season, will surely be missed along with ace stopper Craig Gordon, who suffered a broken arm in a collision with Jermaine Defoe.
Steve Bruce’s teams always play Arsenal hard and work doubly hard to deny them space in the midfield which usually means persistent, niggling, little fouls in the midfield area. A lot of Arsenal fans tend to agree with Wenger that persistent fouling is as much a form of cheating as going over too easily and if you’re one of those, maybe you shouldn’t watch. Sunderland are going to kick Arsenal tomorrow I have no doubt, how we and referee Alan Wiley respond to that will decide the points I’m afraid.
The Arsenal team news is a bit cloudy at the moment owing to the playoff match that France won against Ireland. Both Sagna and Gallas have just played 210 minutes for France in a high intensity, highly charged, very emotional win over Ireland in the World Cup qualifiers. So, while Wenger is reticent to break up what has been a magnificent central partnership between Gallas and Vermaelen he certainly has a choice to make there given Gallas’ playing time. As for right back, Arsenal have cover for Sagna in Emmanuel Eboue and I would not be at all surprised to see the Ivorian come in for the Frenchman on the right.
Despite the good news that Gibbs’ metatarsals are only bruised, the question of Arsenal’s left-back is still open since Gibbs is out for tomorrow. Will Wenger go with the slower, more experienced left back in Silvestre or opt for Traore or even Vermaelen (as predicted here the other day) instead? Frankly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a back line of Eboue, Senderos, Silvestre, and Vermaelen. It’s a physical, experienced, back line that should be able to handle the threat of Campbell and Bent.
More good news in the middle for the Diaby haters as he is out with his usual calf/thigh/Iplayedmorethanonegameinarow injury while Arsene Wenger has called Denilson fit and said that he “will be in the squad.” Denilson’s been out for so long that a start tomorrow seems far off. Wenger does need to do something, though, because if Song gets a fifth yellow tomorrow he’ll be suspended for the Chelsea clash on the 29th. I have noticed that Wenger loves to throw Ramsey into these physical clashes so I’m predicting Rambo to start. Don’t be surprised to see a midfield of Rambo, Denilson, and Fabregas.
Up front, all the news is focused on who will replace Robin van Persie and his placenta leg. Odds are with Bendtner out three more weeks that we’re looking at Eduardo in the lone striker role. Dudu has just signed a new, long term contract, and has publicly stated that he is physically ready to play 90 minutes every three days to help Arsenal win the League. I do worry about how Eduardo will handle the physical nature of tomorrow’s match. Of course, Eduardo for his part is obviously mentally very strong to overcome the injury he suffered but you still have to wonder. Steve Bruce will instruct his team not to pussy-foot around with Eduardo and I can see Lorik Cana flying in on a hard challenge. This match will surely be Eduardo’s first real test of how well he handles the more physical teams in the Premier League; let’s hope his response is a brace of brilliant goals that only the Crozillian can deliver.
Who Wenger will choose as Eduardo’s partners is also a bit interesting. Vela is now healthy and a lot of folks are calling for him to be included in tomorrow’s action. That said, I suspect Wenger will pick Nasri on the left and Rosicky on the right to start, with what’s his name, uhhh, you know the Mexican striker, I forget, coming in off the bench.
The match is being played live on Fox Soccer Channel tomorrow in The States. Kickoff is 7am local time and given the fact that the match is being played live on FSC I’ll be doing a liveblog. Stop by tomorrow at 6:30am PST when the festivities start.
See you then!