It’s out of our hands, but winning our remaining games gives Arsenal the slimmest of hopes of retaining a top-4 league finish and what many consider to be “minimum requirements” for an Arsene Wenger managed team. There are two league matches left to be played, the first a make-up game against already relegated Sunderland. We play it because of the FA Cup run that sees Arsenal in the final of that tournament, a third remaining match which likely overshadows this one and the league finale on Sunday vs Everton.
In many ways this match, one many Arsenal supporters have already toted up in the win column, only serves as a backdrop to the bigger dramas surrounding the club and its figurehead, Wenger. Will the manager extend his contract for another year or two? Should he be the one making that decision? Many Gooners believe that this season’s failure to maintain a title challenge combined with a humiliating dismissal from the Champions league by Bayern Munich is not at all mitigated by the FA Cup run nor the recent resurgence that has pulled us back towards the top 4. Wenger should be judged on his results and these do not meet the high standards he set earlier in his career, which has now stretched to 21 seasons. That very longevity may be at the root of the issue. Sports, for most fans at least, are about the moment at hand, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat, viscerally experienced. The longer arc of a club and notions like “consistency” and “growth,” don’t scratch that sort of itch. The mood will likely hang heavy at the Emirates, a stadium, it could be argued, that Wenger himself built.
Intriguingly enough, in the opposite technical area will be a man many wished for when the first rumblings of the Wenger Out movement were being heard. At that time, Scotsman David Moyes was an overachieving manager at Everton and many thought his style was exactly what was needed at Arsenal, a team with a more continental culture which suggested that the annual return to the Champions League was more important than triumph on the domestic front. Moyes eventually left Everton for a bigger club but it was as Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand picked successor at Manchester United. To put things mildly, Moyes time at United did not go well. Sacked there in less than a year, he traveled to beautiful San Sebastien, Spain to manage Real Sociedad. Again, Moyes lasted less than a year. Now at Sunderland and headed down into the Championship, Moyes’ best days seem well behind him.
Of course, that’s the same thing many believe about Arsene Wenger and his recent tactical flexibility–switching to a three-man-at-the-back formation–all feels “too little, too late.” In fact, Wenger recently revealed that he considered such a switch as early as November, but that a lengthy unbeaten run made him hesitate. These sorts of pressures–always managing with an eye to the potential reaction of his critics–is another argument that a change of figurehead might buy a new manager and his squad a measure of good will even if results might head even further south. Superior recent results since the formation switch–six wins from seven matches, and, most recently at Stoke, a performance with plenty of verve, proivides a measure of hope that Arsenal can finish the season on a high. Win these two league matches and prevent Chelsea from completing a domestic double with an FA Cup win and Wenger might even earn himself a dose of good-will. Would that be a time to bow out or would it be a springboard to a renaissance at the club if he were to renew his contract?
For all but the hardest core of Wenger Out “supporters,” that would be the preferred outcome. The only way to get there, however, is to take them one at a time and not look past what would appear to be the easiest of all the matches in this extreme five-games-in-two-weeks flurry at the tail end of the season. Sunderland are already relegated, check. They have plenty of injuries and Moyes has promised to play some of his younger guys, check. They do not have the advantage of extra rest having played last Saturday just like Arsenal, check. On the other hand, their form in away games is not all that bad, having won one, drawn one and lost only one in their three most recent travels. Moyes’ boys might play more freely away from the Stadium of Light, a venue that perhaps shines a bit too much glare on their failed season.
As such, Wenger must not allow a sense of complacency to set in while maybe using further rotation to rest some of his players and allow others a chance to show that they might be worthy for a place in the season finale or at Wembley. Injury concerns focus on Laurent Koscielny, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez, the latter of whom was grabbing his thigh then signaling that he needed to be subbed before carrying on and scoring a very nice goal to restore a two goal lead that sealed the victory at Stoke. Is he hurt or isn’t he? Wenger says it was just a kick and not a strained hamstring as many feared. He faces a late fitness test but my suspicion is that all three players will sit this one out, though Alexis might get a bench seat just to assure supporters that he will be available for the Everton and Chelsea matches. Here’s the squad I think will start.
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Alexis, Giroud
As always, it’s a shot in the dark. What do others think? How should Wenger balance all the factors at play–not only the need for a win while thinking of the matches ahead–but also the extreme scrutiny he faces whenever he brings his team onto the pitch? As always, it’s a balancing act but one with no room for error. The chance of making the top 4 is out of our hands but it will be completely lost if we cannot win this match, so win it we must.
Go on then…
25 thoughts on “Arsenal-Sunderland: Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Back at Home, Winning on the Pitch is Only Half the Battle.”
With Sunderland feeling down in the dumps and Moyes suggesting he may have a couple of kids in the side, expect to see some wholesale changes, while not reducing our chances of a victory. I feel the team you have put up is more like what we’ll see; I feel we may see Coq in for Xhaka (who has played every game for as long as I can remember. Iwobi is likely to get some game time as a sub too. Sanchez will like to play, if for nothing, to improve his goal stats.
Hopefully, Sunderland’s resistance will be such as will allow us score plenty of goals, seeing as GD may become a factor in getting into the top 4; you never know.
As always 17HT well written. With regard to team selection I don’t really know what his plan is? . If we could improve our goal difference by about plus 5 and City lose at home to the Baggies, we would be above them on goal difference going into the last game. Many people are saying City have it easy against WBA and Watford…. wonder if we said that when we lost to them both.
Liverpool have an easy one at home to Middlesbrough…… hang on didn’t we screw that one up as well
Alternatively he may rest players for the cup final. Alexis surely should take it easy. I would also be tempted to play Gabriel ahead of Kos. He can be dangerous ar set pieces etc
It was good to see Coquelin playing well at Stoke, but if we want to go after the goal difference gap, he needs to be making the half time tea. I knew he had never scored, but I read today he hasn’t made an assist eithrr. Appreciate that isn’t his game, but that is some achievement
Them times are tough, but trudge on we must. Good piece HT. I want to get lost in the moment, nothing at stake, all at stake. The next game is everything! OGAAT.
I loved our play against Stoke. We moved the ball around with speed and confidence. It looks to me we use the 3:4:3 different from Chelsea. They hinge their offense on speed and directness, we rely on possession and offensive overload. This entails plenty of movements and interchanges of positions in the central areas of our attack. I was thrilled that Ozil scored from the left channel, Sanchez from the right channel. I have long been asking for exactly that
I believe Wenger would have two things in mind. One is keep fighting to the end for top 4 finish, the other to give this team more game time together so a playing pattern crystallizes vividly for them in readiness for the FA Cup final. I do not expect too many changes.
Only Holding and Monreal have played every minute of our last 3 matches in 6 days. Today’s would be the 4th in 9 days. The matches now double as their practices too.
Expected line up (3 changes):-
If Arsene is going to rest anyone, I guess tonight is the one to do it in, no disrespect to Sunderland but Everton is going to be a tougher more physical battle, not least because of the antipathy between Wenger and Koeman.
Koscielny is out, so I hear, just precautionary.
Chelsea conceding 3 at home is heartening. Any slight drop in their intensity is welcome, post EPL title. You can’t just switch it off and on again, and we’ll be flying tonight and at the weekend whilst Chelsea are unintentionally easing up in their heads as they look forward to the beach. Fingers crossed…
Kev hope you are right about Chelsea, but I suspect it was more about the team they put out. I started watching it, but then realised my only motivation was hoping that some of their players would get injured. It’s amazing how many times Hazard gets kicked and yet he still bounces back for more.
Rob Holding has become a cult figure after his performances and kicking Arnoutovic up in the air has made him a hero at The Emirates. I read that although his initial cost was £2 million it could rise to £10 million with international appearances etc. That would make him one fifth of a John Stones. I suggest we go and buy another four Holding type players. I guess it proves their are still bargains out there if you know where to look.
Retsub, it’ll be interesting to see if Ospina plays tonight or at the weekend, he is after all the cup keeper…
Mate, I would settle for another two or three Holding type signings in the summer, he’s been a fantastic signing up till now, composed, physical when needed, technically proficient, with that edge that you need at places like Stoke, I like him very much.
Retsub1 : “I started watching it, but then realised my only motivation was hoping that some of their players would get injured.”
And there I was, thinking I must be a heartless fan in need of cleansing, after confessing to being motivated by similar desires. 😆😆
We do need to score goals against Sunderland so, need to have on as many offensive players as we can afford to throw on, without losing team balance. I agree Coq may not be required per se, but with Xhaka looking like he could use the rest (and I do not claim to be speaking for him), he’s probably the most likely replacement to provide assurances to our possession and defensive play.
PE, will prefer to see Welbeck start over Giroud for this one. Unless I have underestimated their resistance level, this game will be right for Welbeck.
Perhaps I should have added, I didn’t want any career threatening injuries, just enough to put them out of action for a few weeks.
I was half joking about Le Coq, but if it gets to the last moment and we need one more, let’s hope he is not around.
I would stick with Giroud. 3 goals in his last two games, I am a great believer in playing in form players. For that reason Ramsey is a must.
We have seen this type of game before though, when everyone is predicting 5 -0 , 6 – 0 etc and it never as easy as we think.
Hey Fellas…Thanks for the comments…
Line-ups are out… 9 of 11 for me… Giroud and Alexis start (not DW and Theo)…Ah well…
Arsenal: Cech, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Gibbs; Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Elneny, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck
Sunderland: Pickford, Jones, Manquillo, O’Shea, Kone, Oviedo, Ndong, Larsson, Cattermole, Borini, Defoe. Subs: Mannone, Love, Januzaj, Lescott, Gooch, Gibson, Rodwell
Clearly, Wenger is not about to gamble and has goals difference in kind too. Well, up to the boys not to let him down and go for it.
It bad 17HT it was always going to be difficult. Disappointed that Nacho isn’t playing wing back, he has had a taste for a goal recently.
Should read not bad
Anyone watching Sky 2 ahead of the game, there is a programme about the Invincibles
Going for goals tonight and hoping Man City slip up…
I thought Elneny might get a run out, but can’t knock the line up.
Is Mertesaker fit?
Some match tid-bits:
If the Gunners win it will be Arsene Wenger’s 20th victory in all competitions against David Moyes – more than any other manager he’s faced with Arsenal.
David Moyes has lost 15 times to Arsene Wenger in the Premier League, his most defeats against a single manager in the competition.
If Giroud scores, he’ll be the third player to hit 50 goals at the Emirates Stadium in all competitions (after Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott), while the Frenchman is also just two goals short of becoming the 19th player to score 100 goals in all competitions for Arsenal (currently 98).
Sunderland have won just one of their last 26 Premier League fixtures against the Gunners, this coming in a 1-0 win back in November 2009 (W1 D9 L16).
Arsenal have never lost a home Premier League match against Sunderland (W10 D5 L0).
Let’s hope the players are not fatigued from so many games in just over a week.
That has not gone according to the general script at all, with Sunderland playing without pressure. The way the game has gone seemed to mirror the atmosphere in the stadium: very tepid. We’ve played well at times but have not been clinical in the decisive moments. Sanchez, Bellerin, Ramsey, Holding, and even Giroud have had moments which were spurned or saved by the keeper.
Not sure if the planned boycott had something to do with it but things seem flat and the fans can hardly be heard. This is the importance of freshness. I think Wenger has given those with motivation the chance to prove themselves, but it would seem we need some change to the personnel. I shall leave my thoughts as to where till later in the game, if at all.
Thanks for the halftime report, Gooneris… I had to miss the first 35 minutes so I was disappointed to tune in and see that it was still nil-nil and the first bit of action was Cech forced into a save from Defoe, albeit from a tough angle… The next ten minutes looked promising but no breakthrough…
The Stadium looks half empty and, indeed, very quiet…
Wenger, to me at least, seems very capable of using the halftime break to tweak things for the better… Let’s hope so…
Amazing how you see a fixture and predict a scoreline, based on form, only to be surprised by the turn of events.
Ramsey goes down injured and comes off for Iwobi. Gibbs also off for Welbeck. I would have taken Gibbs off at half time. He has avoided taking any risks or getting into dangerous positions. Iwobi will be a bit rusty but should create chances for us. We have to go for broke now.
Jordan Pickford has been massive for them but that’s no reason why we can’t be 4 up. And as I write that, Sanchez gets our first, after some precise passing by our lads. Relief.
ALEXIS from Ozil from Xhaka… finally…very nice goal
Anyone who gets as much practise as Pickford should be very good
14 shots on goal for Arsenal…Indeed Pickford kept the scoreline reasonable…
Thanks for match preview, Seventeenho. You, just like the boys and Arsene, are not relenting till the end!
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