Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Sunderland

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, May 20
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Sunderland 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 4 - 1 Sunderland
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 58 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 39 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-L-D
  • Sunderland's League Form: W-L-D-W-W-D
Theo Walcott celebrates the Tyler Blackett own goal that
handed Arsenal a point.
I talk a lot about "magic numbers" in this section, that is, the number of points that need to be earned by Arsenal or dropped by the team chasing them for the Gunners to finish in a specific position. Arsenal's very strange come-from-behind draw at Old Trafford was tremendous because it dropped Arsenal's magic number for third place from five to two.

If Arsenal had lost, the number would still have been five and if United win at the weekend, Arsenal would need to win both of their remaining games to earn those five points and avoid fourth. Instead, a win tonight is enough to avoid August's Champions League playoff, regardless of what might happen on Anti-Climactic Showdown Sunday™.

A draw means Arsenal's magic number drops to one, which also means that they could clinch third on a tie-breaker. The Gunners will be three points clear of United with one match to play and a seven goal advantage on goal difference. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, so let's just avoid that if we can. United play at Hull City, who are fighting for their lives, on Sunday.

Sunderland are currently one point clear of Hull City but have a worse goal difference; they will need at least one point from their final two matches to guarantee safety. They play at Chelsea on Sunday.

Arsenal are now five points back of Manchester City for second place with this game in hand. To finish second, Arsenal will need to win both of their remaining games and need City to lose on Sunday; they host Southampton.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Welbeck (knee,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)
Doubts: Koscielny (illness,) Arteta (match fitness)

No, seriously!
The big team news at the moment is that Laurent Koscielny might be absent from tonight's match with what Arsene Wenger called "the flu." It's good to have someone like Gabriel to call on in this sort of situation. Still, this poses the largest threat to Arsenal maintaining it's consistent XI; Arsenal have started the same XI in the league for six straight matches for the first time since the Pleistocene era. The last time Arsenal fielded a different XI was at Newcastle when Gabriel started in place of a rested Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers started over Hector Bellerin, and Danny Welbeck started on the right with Mesut Ozil out through illness.

All that aside, there's very little else to say about the lineup. Welbeck, Mathieu Debuchy, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all expected to remain out with their injuries, while Mikel Arteta is still a doubt over his match fitness (I did spot him in yesterday's training photographs!)

I'll be interested to see if the Aaron Ramsey on the right experiment continues; Arsenal looked much better when he moved back to central midfield at Old Trafford on Sunday. Jack Wilshere could be in line for a start as well, as Ramsey (who has been battling some knocks lately) could probably use a breather. I wouldn't rotate too much, though, as Arsenal can rotate all they want against West Brom if they win tonight.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Ramsey, Giroud.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Alvarez (knee,) Bridcutt (knee,) Gomez (knee,) Brown (knee)
Doubts: Rodwell (hamstring,) Jones (thigh)

Dick Advocaat's squad will be without four players through knee injuries tonight. Jordi Gomez has a patella fracture that has ended his season, while Ricardo Alvarez and Wes Brown are not expected to return tomorrow or Sunday either. Liam Bridcutt could be fit for the weekend, however.

Jack Rodwell has a hamstring strain that leaves him as a doubt for tonight's match, though I do include him in my predicted XI. Rodwell has not played since May 2, so his inclusion is probably a mistake on my part. Billy Jones is also a doubt after he came out from last weekend's match against Leicester with a thigh cramp; Antoine Reveillere might get his first start since March at right back if Jones cannot go.

Predicted XI: Pantilimon, van Aanholt, O'Shea, Coates, Reveillere, Cattermole, Larsson, Rodwell, Wickham, Graham, Defoe.

Current Form

Sunderland cooled off Leicester's hot run with a draw, but it
was enough for the Foxes to ensure safety. Also, this kick is
Don't look now, but Arsenal have only one win in their last four! Prior to the match against Chelsea at the end of last month, Arsenal had won a remarkable eight straight both in the league and across all competitions, having only lost to Southampton, Tottenham, and Monaco in the calendar year 2015. Of course, you'll recall that Chelsea came to the Emirates to get a 0-0 draw and did so. A week later, Arsenal appeared back on track, winning comfortably, 3-1, at the KC Stadium against Hull. Then, the potential blip, as Arsenal huffed and puffed but couldn't beat former Gunner Lukasz Fabianski and Arsenal's newest bogey team, Swansea City, nicked a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Arsenal's first half at Old Trafford on Sunday was not a good response, but they managed to turn it around just enough to take a vital point.

It's still one win from four and it appears to have been enough for second place to be unlikely (those odds are currently at 15%; as mentioned at the top, Arsenal will need to win both and have Southampton win at the Etihad to finish second.)

As for Sunderland, their odds of relegation are currently at just 4.2%. Their three point lead over Hull City is massive considering Hull only has one match left to make up that ground (and it's against Manchester United.) Sunderland were in 17th after a loss to West Ham at the end of March, but their 1-0 derby win over tumbling Newcastle was critical. Despite a 4-1 loss to Crystal Palace the following week, Sunderland have kept their head above water, as they are now on a four match unbeaten streak, thanks to draws against Stoke City and in-form Leicester, as well as wins over Southampton and Everton.

Match Facts

Arsenal might have struggled with Fabianski this year, but
they did not struggle against Vito Mannone.
Arsenal have not had the easiest of times with Sunderland in recent seasons, though their record overall does not quite reflect that; the Gunners have lost just once in their last 22 league meetings. Sunderland's last win over Arsenal came on November 21, 2009, 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, thanks to a Darren Bent winner.

Arsenal have won four straight against the Black Cats, though not all of them came easily. Sunderland entered the reverse fixture having just given up eight million goals to Southampton the week beforehand. Arsenal were not exactly in the best form either, coming off a draw with Hull and an uncomfortable win at Anderlecht. The match was largely even, but Alexis Sanchez took full advantage of two Sunderland defensive errors and Arsenal won 2-0.

This fixture last year was a much more comprehensive victory for Arsenal; Olivier Giroud scored twice and Arsenal received goals from Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny as well to build a 4-0 lead before the hour mark. Emanuele Giaccherini scored a consolation goal in the 81st.

This fixture does have a history of being frustrating for Arsenal; it ended 0-0 in March of 2011 (the week after the League Cup Final loss to Birmingham City) and August of 2012 (on the opening day of the season.)

The Referee

"This card matches my shirt!"
The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor and I cannot tell if that's good news or bad news anymore.

You'll recall what happened with Taylor at the start of last season, as Arsenal came crashing to a 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa. After his performance that day, Taylor did not work another Arsenal match last season. Arsenal saw him for the first time this season in Leicester in August, in a 1-1 draw. In December, he took charge of Arsenal's calamitous 3-2 loss at Stoke City, in which he sent off Calum Chambers for two borderline yellow card infractions. So, the disaster seemed to continue...

Then, Arsenal had him for their home match against Aston Villa again, but this one turned into a comprehensive 5-0 victory. Against West Ham, in a match Arsenal was already winning, Taylor came on from his fourth official spot to replace the injured Chris Foy, who himself was returning from a long injury layoff; Arsenal won that match 3-0. In early April, Taylor worked another match at the Emirates, the emphatic 4-1 win over Liverpool.

So, you tell me where Arsenal's luck with Taylor resides right now.

As for Sunderland, the Black Cats have seen Taylor four times this season, including a Tyne & Wear derby in December, a 1-0 win. Sunderland's record in other matches with Taylor is not as positive though; he worked a 0-0 draw with Burnley, a 0-0 draw with Fulham in the FA Cup's fourth round, and a 4-1 loss to Crystal Palace last month.

Around the League

I, uh.... I don't know what to type here. This match is a make-up from the weekend Arsenal played Reading in the FA Cup Semi-Final and all other make-up matches have been played already. There's nothing else going on in the league until the weekend, when everyone's 38th match kicks off simultaneously on Sunday.

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and the world's worst superhero. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, which in Spanish is @gatodelfox. Okay, both are Spanglish.