Sunderland preview – time to respond

Morning all,

Sunderland at home today as we return to the Premier League. We know how important it is. United’s defeat in midweek means we can close the gap to a point. I know many are looking at their game against the Mugsmashers tomorrow as one in which they might drop more points but regardless of that we’ve got to make sure we pick up a win today.

The team news is that Cesc, Song and van Persie are out, although Koscielny comes back in while Aaron Ramsey returns to the squad. The latter hopefully making a full recovery from the injury sustained against Stoke. The boss thinks his youth will be a factor in his recovery, saying:

When you have a big injury before the age of 20 normally you come back and you develop normally. That is why the big question mark about him was whether he would be back fully fit physically. That is now sorted out in a positive way, the rest is just a question of playing games.

We saw the impact Eduardo’s injury had on his career but it shouldn’t be overlooked that Abou Diaby was just 19 when Dan Smith inflicted that injury on him – and with the best will in the world you can’t say he’s developed normally. Maybe he always would have been injury prone, but the constant muscular strains he’s picked up time and time again have most likely come from the damage caused by that injury. Fingers crossed Ramsey doesn’t suffer those and it’ll be great to see him back in red and white today.

I don’t think he’ll start, however, a place on the bench is the most likely and if I had to guess it’d be: Wojscez©® – Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy – Wilshere – Denilson – Diaby – Arshavin – Nasri – Bendtner

I think Bendtner’s hat-trick in midweek means he’ll play the central role today with Chamakh available from the bench if required. Nasri and Arshavin on either side should provide some of the guile and creativity lost by the absence of Cesc. He might even go with Rosicky again but I kinda doubt it.

At the back Koscielny and Wojscez©® will be determined to put things right after what happened at Wembley and overall we’ve got to look for a big response from the players who played against Birmingham. The guys that were on the bench obviously felt disappointment but not like those who were out there and felt they might have done better. Backlash isn’t the right word to use but it’d be nice to see a bit of it.

We dropped two points at their place earlier in the season and they were silly points. First, Rosicky’s penalty to make it 2-0 was blasted over the bar and then the last seconds of injury time saw Darren Bent get the equaliser. We know they’ve got players who can hurt us if we’re not 100% today so there can be no hangover from Sunday. Speaking about the Premier League, Arsene says:

We battled everywhere since the start of the season against many specialist opinions that we have no chance at all. Now that we are in this situation, it would be very dramatic if we would not consider the importance of the game tomorrow.

And it’s not as if the players aren’t aware of the position we’re in. Samir Nasri says:

It is our best chance since I came to a club to do it. It feels like that to me. Chelsea are not as good as last year, Manchester United as well, so it is our time.

There’s still a long way to go and a lot of football to be played but when you look at the fixture lists it’s hard not to think this is indeed a very good chance to go right to the wire, at least. It’s down to the players now. They can talk all they want but it’s what they do on the pitch that’s important. That’s got to start today against Sunderland.

In other news this morning Dennis Bergkamp talks to The Times but because of their paywall I can’t link to it. However, Ashburton Grove has a few quotes, particularly interesting the ones about how bringing in new players has an effect on the squad. Dennis said:

Looking back, every time we won something, every summer before he bought some players. Three new players will mean 17 others will look at it and they will change. Something happened in those seasons I mentioned which made us stronger. Sometimes you have to get those players in to make something happen.

Which is fair enough. and I see exactly what he means, but as Jack Wilshere has proved this season the new players don’t have to be bought. He’s brought quality, energy, desire and real competition to the midfield and he’s a player that has come from within. So they don’t have to be transfers. I do think Dennis is right in that players need to feel they’re under a little bit of threat in order to stay motivated.

Not all of them, you have characters who will give you 100% whether it’s against Barcelona or Brighton, but there are others who don’t have that same mentality. Not deliberately but they can fall into comfort zones and need competition to keep them on their toes. Whether that’s via the transfer market or the youth system it doesn’t really matter once the player is good enough.

And that’s about that for this morning. Live blog coverage of Sunderland begins at around 2.30pm with team news etc, so check back later on for more info on that. Also, if you fancy a pre-game bet check out the Arsenal Odds page which provides you the best odds from a range of bookies on a range of markets.

Till later.

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