After a morale-boosting Cup victory in midweek over Reading, it’s back to Premier League football with an away trip to Sunderland up next for Arsenal this weekend.
Having been held to a goalless draw at the Emirates last Saturday by Aitor Karanka’s stubborn Middlesbrough side, the Gunners will be eager to avoid the same fate against David Moyes’ Sunderland outfit. They are yet to win a match this term and emerge as early relegation candidates with nine matches played.
The Black Cats held us to a goalless draw back in mid-April last season, and although they’ve struggled for form recently, they’ll take motivation from their ability to defend in numbers and frustrate bigger sides on home turf.
Arsène Wenger confirmed the news that supporters have been dreading, Lucas Perez is sidelined for around six-to-eight weeks after sustaining an ankle injury against Reading in midweek. It’s definitely poor timing considering Lucas was beginning to integrate himself amongst the senior squad on a more prominent basis following his summer switch from La Liga side Deportivo.
In addition to this, Santi Cazorla (achilles) and Theo Walcott (hamstring) aren’t expected to feature as both are doubts. Kieran Gibbs could continue in his preferred left-back berth with Nacho Monreal (thigh) also described as a doubt for selection.
However, midfielder Aaron Ramsey and striker Olivier Giroud are both expected to be in the matchday squad after recovering from their respective injuries in recent weeks.
Wenger had this to say about his returning duo: “For us that’s a big bonus because the first signs of players who have played all the games need a little bit of a breather come in now. To have that quality coming in is absolutely fortunate.”
In terms of the backline, it’s essentially a certainty unless any player has a late fitness doubt or pre-match injury.
Granit Xhaka continues to serve his three-match suspension so won’t travel with the squad, meaning the midfield pairing of Elneny-Coquelin is expected to continue once again at the Stadium of Light.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance in midweek suggests he will continue to start against the Black Cats, which is the same to be said for Alex Iwobi and Mesut Özil.
Alexis Sánchez has continued to improve in the central attacking role and Wenger will be mindful of the impact a fresh Giroud could have on a tiring Sunderland backline in the second-half, rather than starting him immediately.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs; Coquelin, Elneny; Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil; Alexis.
Sunderland’s most recent win was an EFL Cup third-round tie against Queen’s Park Rangers in the middle of September. Since then, they’ve conceded eight goals in five matches and David Moyes’ side will be more than eager to stop the rot of defeats before criticism becomes unbearable.
They’ve got a number of absentees that will not feature against Arsenal in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, including Jan Kirchhoff (hamstring), Lee Cattermole (back) and Adnan Januzaj (ankle).
Fabio Borini and Jason Denayer (both groin), Sebastian Larsson (knee), Vito Mannone (elbow) are the other first-team players currently sidelined with injuries, meaning the hosts’ starting XI will look something like this:
(4-3-3): Pickford; Manquillo, Kone, O’Shea, van Aanholt; Pienaar, Rodwell, N’Dong; Watmore, Khazri, Defoe.