Arsenal get back to league business this weekend as they welcome Sunderland to the Emirates, in a match with interesting connotations for both teams. Arsenal need to get back to winning ways to restore some confidence as they march towards, uh, March with title aspirations, and Sunderland need points in order to climb out of the relegation fight and ensure Premier League safety for another season.
I swapped electrons with the good folks at the Roker Report, SBN's Sunderland blog, and asked them three questions about their team and their season. I answered some of theirs about Arsenal, too, which I will link to when they go live (they're in England, so they'll publish a bit later than we do).
Away we go!
TSF: Sunderland currently occupy the first relegation place, but there are currently only eight points between Sunderland and 10th place. Are Sunderland fans worried about relegation, or are both team and fanbase confident that the tightness of the table will work in your favor?
RR: I'm certainly worried about relegation, but as you say it's so tight that things can change dramatically on account of one win here and there. I think the tightness of the table is certainly a factor that needs to be taken into consideration, but at the same time we need to get points from our games otherwise it means nothing. At the minute it looks like a team who can put together a run of three games or so unbeaten will manage to claw their way out of it.
It's really a league within itself now. A point on Saturday would give us something to build on after a disappointing outing against Hull last week.
TSF: Sunderland are in the Capital One Cup final and in the quarterfinal of the FA Cup. Has this taken a toll on the squad, or is there depth enough to be active in all three competitions?
RR: It doesn't seem like it to be honest. Preseason Paolo Di Canio promised to make us the fittest team in the league. I don't for one second at the moment think we're significantly fitter than any other team, but under Gus Poyet it seems everyone wants to play and is putting a shift in whenever they are called upon. Gus has taken the opportunity to rest people where possible. There were significant changes against Southampton at the weekend and we managed to get the win.
Cliched as it is to say, a win in any competition gives a boost. If we lose a league game and win a cup game a few days later it gets the players immediately back in the right frame of mind. Injury-wise we're yet to really lose anyone significant. Steven Fletcher probably the main loss, however when he's been fit this season he hasn't looked quite the player he used to. Hopefully in time he can come back.
TSF: The Short Fuse is based in the US, and has a large US readership, so here's the Federally Mandated Jozy Altidore Question: What the hell? He went from a 30 goal scorer in Holland to a two goal scorer at Sunderland. Has he failed to settle, does Sunderland play a system he's not accustomed to, or did Jozy flatter to deceive in Holland?
RR: Jozy is an enigma. People change their minds on him on a weekly basis (myself included). So to answer things point by point in the above question...
What the hell? Indeed, what the hell. I'm still not 100% sure what to make of him. At times he looks first class (those performances have happened of late) and at other times he's looked dog-poop (the rest of the time). I think it's a matter of he's obviously a good player, a young player, and we didn't really know what to do with him. It seems he's best when players are playing around him and involving him in the player rather than using him as a target man.
It took us all a while to work that out and there's signs it's coming to fruition now. The goals haven't come, and he's been as frustrated as the rest of us with that but I think the more he plays, the more he's involved in the play directly or having a significant say in others scoring, he'll begin to show what he's all about.
He hasn't failed to settle at all. More mismanaged to a degree as well as a lack of confidence in front of goal on his part.
Bonus question: How much do you love Vito Mannone? I always liked him and I'm glad he found regular playing time somewhere.
RR: I love Vito Mannone more than some members of my family. He's a fantastic player. I'd go as far as to say not only do we not miss Simon Mignolet, but we might have a better player in Mannone.
Thanks to the gentlemen of the Roker Report for taking the time to do this!