Sunderland away last season was a remarkable fixture in more way than one. It was Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal debut after a deadline day arrival from Real Madrid for a club record fee. The German International made an instant start to his Gunners career with an electric assist for Giroud’s opening goal that day. by half time, we could have been 3 or 4 goals up if Walcott had made better finishing of the German’s wonderful through balls.
Today, we won’t have any of the above mentioned three players, and the man in the home team’s dugout won’t be the maverick Paolo di Canio.
But that game too was the stage for Aaron Ramsey’s scoring spree in the League last season, scoring two sumptuous goals to give us all three points. Again, those assists came from players who we can’t have for today’s game, meaning we go in to the Stadium of Light with not quite the same feel as we had last year.
Two league wins out of eight is hardly fourth place form, let to say Championship winning stride. Scraping a last-gasp draw last weekend to Hull betrayed all the promise we had shown of improvement in previous games, even at Chelsea. We got beaten by a better team at the bridge but not winning a team we had beat three times out of three last season was quite a low.
Now, there appears a chance for rectification.
While we were struggling to get out of first gear against Steve Bruce’s side last weekend, Southampton were out of sight against our opponents today. Never mind the rout began with a stupendous own goal by Vergini, the Saints managed to expose the frailties of Gus Poyet’s defence, and seeing we will face Ronald Koeman’s side in a couple of weeks, it would appear this game is now a test of our credentials. The Saints may turn out to be this season’s surprise top-four challenger and their romp against the Black Cats last weekend will be the yardstick by which our performance today will be judged.
Wenger will not be fully armed to prosecute this game as injuries continue to deplete the squad by the week. While there is some good news from the long term absentees room with Theo Walcott likely to be on the bench today and Giroud expected to make a return ahead of schedule, Laurent Koscielny remains unavailable with the extent of his injury to yet ascertained. Second choice goalkeeper David Ospina will be sidelined for about 3 months after he reignited the hurt in his thigh due to a faulty warm up against Galatasaray, which will give Emi Martinez the chance to keep Szczezny on his toes with a place on the bench.
Lukas Podolski’s stoppage time winner against Anderlecht surely puts in the fray for a start today, perhaps with a partnership with Danny Welbeck up top. We’ve struggled for balance in our team selection over the past few games, and the manager has not ruled out the possibility of trying out 4-4-2; Arteta and Ramsey in central midfield, Alexis and Alex Ox on the wings.
Not that we should use this game as an avenue for experiments, it is a must win if we are to keep pace with Chelsea at the top.
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