Preview: Sunderland vs. Arsenal

Greetings, fellow Gooners!

For those that don't know me, I am the newest contributor to the Modern Gooner...and I'm stoked to be here. You will find me at the Blind Pig on weekend matchdays (during the week, I'm unfortunately chained and manacled to my cubicle - a shite state of affairs, but I'm a foot or so too short to be between the sticks for Arsenal!), and my intention is to handle match previews and matchday live-blogging.

That said, we are coming off the 6-0 demolition of a decent Braga side in the Champions' League. There has been the usual patronizing rumblings in the Idiot Punditry about how it doesn't count because they're just a small team from a footballing backwater (that has a hilarious habit of kicking England's ass in international play, but don't let that stop you, Idiot Pundits!), but let's not forget that they had eliminated Sevilla from the competition not that long ago. Meanwhile, the Rent Boy Chavs beat up on a smaller club than Braga, conceded a comedy goal in the process, and they are the all-conquering Uncrowned Champeens of Europe. Get to fuck.

Anyway, I didn't see the match, but the highlights were majestic. Braga were defensively porous and their keeper might have done better on one or two, but the fact remains that the result was more down to Arsenal's play than Braga being poor. This was Arsenal in the mood, and hopefully that will carry over to tomorrow's clash with a fairly mediocre Sunderland side. On the other hand, away games after a midweek fixture have not been kind to the Gunners in the past, so surely this will not be a walkover.

For the good guys, I imagine the back five picks itself - Manuel Almunia, Gael Clichy, Sebastian Squillaci, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna. The central pairing had the occasion of the Braga match to get to know each other a bit in as low-pressure a situation as you'll find. This will be a sterner test, but the two have provided reasonable performances so far. That higher level of assurance and calm has, in my opinion, contributed to Almunia's decent start to the campaign. Long may it continue. Sagna has also been playing well, but Clichy has continued his worryingly-erratic form from the end of last season. I wouldn't be overly surprised if Kieran Gibbs steps in at the LB slot.

The midfield may see Tomas Rosicky get a start, but I doubt it. He will be a fine choice to come off the bench if the worst happens and we're down a goal or tied in the second half, though. Given the likely-physical nature of the opponents, I can see Cesc Fabregas playing ahead of Alex Song and Jack Wilshere, whose ongoing transformation from one-dimensional attacking threat to box-to-box midfielder is an unexpected (but welcome) surprise.

The front three will hopefully see a continuation from the Braga match, with the impressive Marouane Chamakh leading the line, flanked by Andrei Arshavin and Samir Nasri. That said, if Nasri isn't quite ready to play two matches in a week after his recent injury, then I would love to see Carlos Vela come in on the left. He already has more goals in this young season than in the entirety of the last, and there is a directness to his play that has been lacking in his previous appearances.

However we line up, there will be problems for this Sunderland team. Their line in the table so far - 4 played, W1 L1 D2, GF 4 GA 4 GD 0 - is a marvelous picture of just how middle-of-the-road this lot is. The Guardian reckons that their backline will consist of Nedum Onouha (Great Young Failed English Hope # 3482048), Anton Ferdinand (Great Young Failed English Hope # 3232937), Titus Bramble (Great Young Failed English Hope # 3111113) and Kieran Richardson (Great Young Failed English Hope # 2323287).

Seriously, it's like a necromancer got a hold of the corpse of England's U-21 team from 1999.

This is not a backline that on paper should provide anything beyond token resistance to the Arsenal attack, but they have a solid prospect in goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The Belgian is in due to an injury to Scott Gordon (I know, I'm stunned too). After a somewhat shaky start in their draw with Birmingham earlier this season, the young custodian came up with a string of fantastic saves to repel Manchester City's overpriced and overrated soldiers of fortune. It's one thing to keep out Carlos Tevez when he's missing sitters from millimeters out, and quite another to stop our rampaging hordes. That said, these young backup keepers always seem to play blinders against us. Adam Bogdan was brilliant for Bolton last week despite conceding four, and besides that - remember Stefan Postma for Aston Villa a few years back? If Mignolet keeps us out one or two times early in the match, will our guys get frustrated? It's something to keep in mind.

I don't know much about their midfield, though I am a little shocked to see Steed Malbranque still in the league. Between the back four and this guy, there's more uncoordinated shuffling zombies in this team than in your average Romero flick. Ahmed El Mohamedy - on loan from the Egyptian league - will be on the other flank (I haven't seen him play, but Egypt is one of the better African sides...keep that in mind) while the center will consist of Jordan Henderson (in for suspended violent psychopath Lee Cattermole) and Paraguayan World Cup ace Cristian Riveros. This is largely an unknown quality for punters like us, but Le Boss will surely know all about Riveros from his scouting and punditry work in South Africa at the very least.

Darren Bent (Great Young Failed English Hope # 3287328) will partner Ghanaian target man Asamoah Gyan up top. This is where Sunderland can give us the most problems if their midfield and/or fullbacks can get them the ball. While our defense handled the aerial bombardment of Blackburn fairly well, this is another matter entirely. While Sam Walrusface's men (Quick aside: you see the quotes in the press from him today? Is he a delusional twat or what?) are big and physical and that's about it, Gyan especially possesses some actual skill to go with it. I'm not saying they're going to run riot, but it is a point of concern.

That said, this is a fixture that Arsenal lost last season and I think the lads will be out for revenge. The official prediction from this quarter is 3-1 to the Arsenal.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully see you at the Pig!

- Sean