Preview by Numbers: Sunderland v. Arsenal

Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Saturday, October 29
7:30 a.m. EDT, 12:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Stephen Child and Stuart Burt
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Sunderland 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 60 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 41 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-D
  • Sunderland's League Form: L-L-L-D-L-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 56 °F / 13 °C
Why were Reading in their highlighter change kits?
Does blue clash with red now? Is it the white sleeves?
If it is, that's stupid.
The winning streak might have been snapped a week ago, but Arsenal will be happy to have gone back to winning ways midweek, especially since their 2-0 League Cup win over second division Reading did not require advancing out of second gear at any point. Arsenal will host Southampton in the fifth round in late November; it's their first time reaching this stage since 2012 and with Spurs, Chelsea, and City knocked out this week, this cup looks to be there if Arsène Wenger wants it.

But, we'll worry about that in a month. For now, it's back to the league. Through a quirk in cup scheduling, Arsenal have played four straight and six of their last seven at the Emirates. Now, they'll head up to the Northeast to face last place Sunderland, themselves knocked out of the League Cup this week by Southampton.

Had Arsenal beaten Middlesbrough last weekend, there's a good chance this would have been a trap game; they've got a trip to Bulgaria on Wednesday and will host Tottenham at the Emirates next Sunday. You could forgive Arsenal for looking past the Black Cats a little bit given those circumstances. However, after failing to beat Boro, the odds of that happening seem a little slimmer. Arsenal are experienced enough at this point to know they have to get back on the right track sooner rather than later.

Sunderland away has always been a difficult fixture for the Gunners, though their record there has been much better in recent years (except for last year's scoreless draw.) If Arsenal were to drop points at the Stadium of Light tomorrow, you get the sense that all of the positivity surrounding the club during their winning streak this month might just ebb away entirely.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Pérez (ankle,)Ramsey (hamstring,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Walcott (illness,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Suspended: Xhaka (third of three, serious foul play)

Get well soon, Santa! I mean, Santi.
Arsenal are mostly sweating over the fitness of Santi Cazorla at the moment; the Spaniard missed the Middlesbrough and Reading matches with an Achilles problem and looks doubtful to return at the moment. With Granit Xhaka serving the third match of a three game ban, Arsenal will have to continue with Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny in the holding roles, especially as Aaron Ramsey is not yet match fit to return from his hamstring problem.

Elsewhere, there were whispers after the match on Tuesday that Theo Walcott was not merely rested but "was not well." That's enough to throw him into the doubt category here, but not enough for me to remove him from the predicted squad. If he's not fit to go, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who scored twice midweek, should slip into the right wing position. I've given Theo a lot of crap over the years, but he has been playing brilliantly this season. Now, don't make me regret these words.

There's bad news regarding Lucas Pérez, as the Spaniard is expected to miss six weeks with ligament damage in his ankle after taking a kick on Tuesday. Since Olivier Giroud is back in the fold, this news would have been much worse a week or two ago for the squad as a whole, but six weeks is still much longer than Arsenal would have liked.

All that said, I don't expect any changes to the XI that drew Boro last week, mostly because nobody else looks to be coming back. Obviously, Cazorla is the biggest absence for the Gunners in terms of their fluidity on the pitch; per Sky Sports, they average 2.15 points per game when he's starting (85 matches) and 1.63 when he's not (38 matches,) over the last four seasons.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: Larsson (knee,) Borini (groin,) Kirchhoff (hamstring,) Mannone (elbow,) Cattermole (back)
Doubts: Januzaj (ankle,) Denayer (groin)

I can see how it would be difficult to fly
in this fog...
It's not really ideal circumstances in terms of rest for Sunderland, playing a lunchtime match on Saturday after a Wednesday night cup tie in Southampton which saw the Black Cats not only lose, but have their plane grounded due to fog. That meant the team did not get back to Wearside until Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours before this fixture's scheduled kickoff.

As for the squad, Arsenal will get to avoid playing two former Gunners as Vito Mannone is out until November with an elbow injury and dead-ball specialist Sebastian Larsson is out until February with a knee injury. Lee Cattermole, who is now vice-captain instead of captain, is out with sciatica. Fabio Borini is out until December with a groin problem and Jan Kirchhoff is out with a hamstring injury, but could be available next week.

There's a major doubt over Adnan Januzaj, who is still on loan from Manchester United and hasn't been sold yet or anything; he has an ankle injury. Jason Denayer, on loan from the other side of Manchester, is 50-50 with a groin problem.

With Mannone injured, 22-year-old Jordan Pickford has been starting in goal; recall he was, well, recalled from his loan spell at Preston North End back in January and played against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Regarding the rest of the squad, David Moyes made only four changes between their loss to West Ham at the weekend and their loss to Southampton in the League Cup. With no alleviation to their injury situation, I'd expect to see the same XI that played in the league last week.

Predicted XI: Pickford, Manquillo, Kané, O'Shea, van Aanholt, Watmore, Khazri, N'Dong, Pienaar, Rodwell, Defoe.

Current Form

David Moyes was sent off for swearing at the fourth official
during Wednesday's League Cup tie.
Arsenal extended their unbeaten run to 13 across all competitions with their win on Tuesday against Reading, their longest within a single season since 2009; they had a 14-match unbeaten run spanning the end of the 2013/14 and start of the 2014/15 seasons. Spanning this year and last, Arsenal have lost just once since they bowed out of Europe at Camp Nou in March, making it just the one loss in their last 23 matches across all competitions. A word of warning about that 13-match unbeaten run in 2009: it was snapped at the Stadium of Light. More on that later.

Sunderland have two wins this season and both were in the League Cup: 1-0 over Shrewsbury Town and 2-1 over Queens Park Rangers. They've been eliminated from that competition now, having lost 1-0 to Southampton on Wednesday. In the league, they've drawn two and lost seven. They've drawn against Southampton and West Brom and they've lost to Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Everton, Tottenham, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and West Ham. As such, they are already dead last and five points from safety. Their goal difference, at -10, is second worst in the league; only Hull City have a worse differential. Their six goals scored is the fewest in the top flight.

Match Facts

This looks like one of the more interesting moments of this
fixture last season.
As I mentioned in the intro, Arsenal have often struggled at the Stadium of Light, but they did have a four-match winning streak there in the league going into last season's fixture, played in late April. That was a 0-0 draw with Mike Dean in the middle (so, just like last week's game in a lot of ways.) As noted in last week's preview in the referee section, both sides were denied a penalty shout in that match.

Arsenal beat Sunderland at the Emirates twice last season, in the league in December and in the FA Cup a month later. Both matches ended 3-1 in favor of the Gunners. Arsenal's goal scorers were the same on both occasions as well, with Joel Campbell, Olivier Giroud, and Aaron Ramsey all scoring for Arsenal on both days, in that order both times. The only difference was the timing of Sunderland's goal. In December, Sunderland equalized before halftime with an Olivier Giroud own goal from a set piece. In January, Sunderland scored first, through Jeremain Lens, before Arsenal came back to win comfortably.

Sunderland's last league win against Arsenal came in November of 2009; Arsenal had just lost Robin van Persie to injury over the preceding international break and Darren Bent scored in the 71st minute to give Sunderland a 1-0 win. As mentioned earlier, that snapped a 13-match unbeaten run for the Gunners. Sunderland also beat Arsenal 2-0 in a 2012 FA Cup tie.

The Referee

Altidore stayed on his feet and scored from this chance, but
Atkinson angered the Stadium of Light by blowing up for
this foul, which might have cost the Black Cats a point.
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Historically, Arsenal do not have a particularly strong record with Atkinson in the middle, but they have won two straight with him and one of them was against Sunderland, so that's something.

Last year, Arsenal had Atkinson in the middle on four occasions. On opening day, they lost 2-0 at home to West Ham. Three months later, Atkinson was in the middle for a North London derby, in which Arsenal came from behind to draw Spurs, 1-1. Then, the aforementioned match with Sunderland in the third round of the FA Cup, which Arsenal won 3-1.

Finally, in mid-February, Atkinson was in the middle for Arsenal's top of the table clash with Leicester. You'll recall the wild circumstances, as Jamie Vardy "cleverly" won and converted a penalty late in the first half by initiating contact with Nacho Monreal in the box. Atkinson gave Arsenal a make-up call in the second half, as he showed two quick yellows to Danny Simpson, and Arsenal scored twice against the 10 remaining Foxes. That was the only red card Atkinson showed last year.

Sunderland have already seen Atkinson once this season, for their 2-1 derby loss to Middlesbrough back in August. Last year, aside from the FA Cup loss to Arsenal, Sunderland also saw Atkinson for a loss to West Brom, a win over Crystal Palace, and a derby draw with Newcastle.

Atkinson worked this fixture back in 2013/14, which you may remember was Mesut Özil's first match with Arsenal. Sunderland fans may remember the match negatively for more than just the 3-1 scoreline. With Arsenal leading 2-1 late in the match, Sunderland should have had an equalizer through Jozy Altidore, but Atkinson inexplicably blew his whistle to call a foul on Bacary Sagna outside of the match, when he should have played advantage and allowed the goal. Aaron Ramsey added an insurance goal later to secure all three points for the Gunners.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Burnley; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Bournemouth; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Leicester City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Watford v. Hull City; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Crystal Palace v. Liverpool; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. West Ham United; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Southampton v. Chelsea; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Monday (night): Stoke City v. Swansea City; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an Austrian play. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to find out what happens in the third act. Spoiler alert: it was the security guard, not the butler.