Preview by Numbers: Sunderland v. Arsenal, FA Cup Fifth Round

Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Saturday, February 18
12:15 p.m. EST, 5:15 p.m. GMT

  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Howard Webb
    • Assistants: Peter Kirkup and Mike Mullarkey
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 54 Arsenal wins, 49 Sunderland wins, 38 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 3 Arsenal wins, 3 Sunderland wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • 3rd Round: 1-0 win over Leeds United
    • 4th Round: 3-2 win over Aston Villa
  • Sunderland's Path Here
    • 3rd Round: 2-0 win over Peterborough United
    • 4th Round: 2-1 win (a.e.t.) over Middlesbrough (replay, after 1-1 draw)
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-L-D-W-W
  • Sunderland's League Form: W-L-W-W-W-L
I won't wax poetic here. Wednesday was abysmal. Sort it out, Arsenal.

With a Friday post coming after a Wednesday night game, there isn't much to say. There's even less to say considering these two teams played each other last week. Also, Wednesday was pretty depressing, so it's hard to say much at all. So, apologies for a terse preview this week.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (knee), Mertesacker (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Santos (ankle), Diaby (hamstring), Jenkinson (back), Wilshere (ankle)

It was a terrible night in Milan for Arsene Wenger's
Banana Army. Photo: Daily Mail.
Because this Arsenal squad can't have every position at full health at any given time, now it's the center backs' turn to enter the physio room. Kieran Gibbs returned to the starting squad on Wednesday for the first time since October, but with his return, it was center back Laurent Koscielny who departed through injury before the interval. Johan Djourou deputized by conceding a penalty. We're just a heartbeat away from Squillaci Time! Or, more likely, Ignasi Miquel. Koscielny announced through his Facebook page (in French, so hopefully the Internet translation isn't too wrong) that there is no ligament damage and that he'll be rested only "for a few days." Great, great news.

Gervinho returns from Africa Cup duty after missing a penalty in the shootout that saw his Ivory Coast lose the final to Zambia, so he's likely just as short of confidence as the rest of the squad is after Wednesday. Thierry Henry's loan spell is over; he has returned to the New York Red Bulls. But, you knew that already. The question is, does Gervinho slip right back into the starting line-up? My guess would be no and that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will get another start, with Gervinho coming on off the bench. Then again, I don't know what Gervinho's fitness level is, so how can I make this prediction?

Otherwise, there's no other new injuries and no new returns.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou, Gibbs, Song, Ramsey, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, van Persie.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Bendtner (face), Vaughan (ankle), Brown (knee), Bramble (calf), Gordon (knee)
Doubts: Cattermole (hamstring), Kilgallon (ankle)

Lee Cattermole could return from a hamstring
injury. Photo: SDSU.
Sunderland have been ravaged by injuries through the past few weeks, though having this midweek off will mean Arsenal will face a much more rested side at the Stadium of Light than they did last week. In addition, some of their injured players are returning from their injuries.

Captain and car-smasher Lee Cattermole is in contention for a return, having been out since the end of January with a hamstring problem. He'll face a late fitness test. Fellow car-smasher Nicklas Bendtner has returned to light training after facial injuries, though he's ineligible to face his parent club. Matt Kilgallon is back in contention after returning to training this week from an ankle injury.

Those who remain out for the Black Cats include David Vaughan (ankle), Wes Brown (knee), Titus Bramble (calf), and Craig Gordon (knee ligaments).

Current Form

How much can you say about form when Sunderland's last match was against Arsenal?

Since last Saturday, Sunderland has not played, and Arsenal suffered their worst ever Champions League defeat. That's about it.

Section over.

Match Facts

Bob Wilson concedes Sunderland's opener in the 1973
semifinal. Sunderland would go on to win the cup.
Photo: Football Archive.

I won't touch much on Arsenal's overall history with Sunderland; I did that last week. So, let's stick with the history between these two sides in this competition. Arsenal and Sunderland have met in the FA Cup six previous times, dating back as far as 1893, when the Black Cats came away with a 6-0 victory. Of course, they weren't called the Black Cats then; they've only been the Black Cats since they moved to the Stadium of Light in 1997, though the symbol has been with the club long before that. Anyway, I'm getting badly off topic here.

(Woolwich) Arsenal returned the favor in 1906 with a 5-0 victory of their own. Sunderland won again in 1961, then in the 1973 semifinal at Hillsborough (Sunderland won the cup over Leeds in the final that year,) but they have not beaten Arsenal in the cup since. The Gunners came away with wins in 1991 and 1997 in a replay.

The Referee

Howard Webb called this a penalty. Sunderland were
furious. Photo: Peterlee Mail.
The referee is South Yorkshire-based Howard Webb. Seriously, you didn't see that coming? How did you not see that coming?

The good news is Arsenal isn't all of a sudden playing Sunderland at Old Trafford. Remember, if you ignore matches played against Manchester United at Old Trafford, then Arsenal are unbeaten in their last ten matches with Howard Webb as the referee. That's not bad at all.

Yes, he was the referee for the 8-2 debacle in August. The other two matches he's worked for the Gunners this year were Arsenal wins at the Emirates: 2-1 over Sunderland and 1-0 over Everton. I've gone back to read Sean's recaps of these games to see if there was anything of note about Webb's performances (I personally recall him being mostly solid in his decision making) and all I came across were a few harsh yellow cards in the Everton match. Most people tend to fear the worst with Howard Webb, though I feel like on these two occasions, most have thought he's been decent. There's a reason he's considered one of the best referees in England, and any pro-Manchester United bias probably isn't going to rear its ugly head in a competition United is no longer playing in this year.

As for his record with Sunderland this season, he worked their Tyne & Wear derby match with Newcastle back in August, sending off Phil Bardsley for a second yellow in the 89th as Newcastle won 1-0, so Sunderland supporters won't be too happy with that. He worked their league loss at the Emirates, so Sunderland supporters won't be too happy with that. He worked a 1-1 draw at Everton on Boxing Day, where the Toffees pulled level on a phantom penalty at the Stadium of Light, so Sunderland supporters won't be too happy with that. Do you notice a trend here?

On the balance, you would think Sunderland supporters should be more upset about this than Arsenal supporters, so stop worrying.

Around the Fifth Round

Here's Crawley Town at Old Trafford last year, where they
gave United a more difficult 5th round match than Arsenal
did in the 6th round. Photo: Zimbio.
The FA Cup (with Budweiser! Man, that's still stupid) fifth round will see eight ties go ahead this weekend. This is the final weekend where Premier League play is halted for the cup. For the sixth round on the weekend of March 17-18, Premier League matches are scheduled as normal, then postponed to a later date if either or both of the teams are still playing in the cup. Arsenal is slated to visit Goodison Park to face Everton that weekend, though such a match would be postponed if Arsenal, Everton, or both advance this week. For all we know, that match itself could be drawn in the sixth round, who knows?

Everton will play earlier than Arsenal tomorrow, so we'll know by kick-off whether there's still a chance the match is on or not. Should Everton win and Arsenal lose in this round, the Gunners would have that weekend off. Everton is home to Blackpool in this round, one of three 10:00 a.m. matches on Saturday. The other two are Norwich hosting Leicester and Millwall hosting Bolton. The early match on Saturday is a battle of Blues, as Chelsea host Birmingham City at the Bridge. Sunderland v. Arsenal is the late game.

Three more ties take place on Sunday, as Crawley Town (the lowest remaining team still alive in the cup for the second year running at this point) hosts Stoke, then Stevenage hosts Tottenham Hotspur, and in the late game, Liverpool hosts Brighton and Hove Albion.