Arsenal vs. Sunderland: match preview

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: Andrey Arshavin of Arsenal fights for the ball with Titus Bramble of Sunderland during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on March 5, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Arsenal vs. Sunderland
Sunday, October 16, 830 AM EDT
Emirates Stadium, London
Television coverage: Fox Soccer Plus, foxsoccer.tv (subscribers only)
SBN Sunderland perspective: The Roker Report

Ladies and Gentlemen: the Premier League is back. After what feels like ages away, Arsenal welcome Sunderland to the Emirates tomorrow in a match between the 15th and 16th place teams in the league. While every match is just as important as the next in the league, a win tomorrow to kickstart a run of form would be most welcome for Arsenal, who only have seven points from seven matches this year. That fact, by the way, makes my left lung feel a little bit like it's trying to eat my spleen.

The team news for Arsenal is pretty good; well, anyway, it's better than it has been. Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, and Tomas Rosicky are all fit. This gives Arsène Wenger some options in his back four, unappealing as they may be, but at least there's something like depth there. Most supporters would feel a lot better if Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere were coming back, but beggars can't be choosers. Abou Diaby is still a few days away from selection, but he is back in full training. Wojciech Szczesny has a small back complaint, but should be available tomorrow. The Black Cats are mostly injury-free at the moment, Frazier Campbell the only long-term absentee. Craig Gordon and Connor Wickham are battling small injuries and may not play tomorrow.

Sadly, or happily, or maybe we just don't know, Nicklas Bendtner cannot play tomorrow due to the league's loan rules.

Wenger faces a number of tactical questions tomorrow. He has talked this week about how Koscielny can play at right back, which hints at the possibility that he will not put Carl Jenkinson out there. However, putting Jenkinson at right back with Mertesacker and Kos in the middle makes a little more sense given the terrifying form of Djourou as of late. Jenkinson's positioning isn't up to snuff yet, but it makes more sense to have him there than a man who hasn't played right back in seven years. Alex Song should move back to his customary spot in midfleld, but it will be interesting to see who partners him. Mikel Arteta seems an obvious choice, and Aaron Ramsey is likely to join them, but one wonders if Wenger is feeling a bit frisky about the possibility of the in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who cannot stop scoring for the England under-21s at the moment.

AOC could also feature on the right, perhaps, but Theo Walcott seems to have that spot on lockdown at the moment. Andrei Arshavin is still more likely to play on the left, where he's just about finished, it seems, but Gervinho will probably start there. Robin van Persie will start at striker, but will Marouane Chamakh come on as a sub, or will it be Park Ju Young, finally, who has scored roughly 100 goals for South Korea in the past two months? The predicted lineup, then:

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Song, Arteta, Ramsey; Gervinho, van Persie, Walcott.

Match prediction: Arsenal get off to a flying start, going up 1-0 within 15 minutes as van Persie taps home a cutback from Walcott. Wenger slips on an orange peel at halftime in the locker room and hits his head, leaving Pat Rice to manage the second half in place of the dazed Frenchman. Rice yells a ton, Sunderland equalize early on, but Theo rescues everything at the end with a run past a tired left back to slot home the winner at the far post. Wenger emerges, head wrapped, to shake hands, only to find that the match was a figment of his imagination, and he's been at home in bed with the flu the whole time.

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