Sunderland v Arsenal 15:00 Sat
In the first of two scheduled encounters between the English outfits this month, Sunderland will host Arsenal this weekend with Paddy Power making Martin O’Neil’s side long odds as each side look to bolster their efforts snatch a European spot.
It may sound surprising to hear Sunderland mentioned in the same sentence as European football, however anything is looking possible under martin O’Neill and the North East outfit continue to hold the best form of any Premier League side in 2012, gaining a hugely impressive 25 points from the last possible 30.
The Black Cats are still ten points away from fourth spot but are mathematically in the race for the position and a betting man would be silly to rule them out.
Until last weekend, the Wearsiders boated the best goal difference outside of the league’s top four, however Arsenal’s 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers gave the North London side a massive boost to their tally.
The Gunners are currently going through an odd patch of performances with just two wins in their last six Premier League outings and if Sunderland were going to claim a win over Arsene Wenger’s side, it appears that now would be the time to do so.
Of course, the Gunners did destroy a hopeless Blackburn side last week 7-1, but that performance simply papered over the cracks in what has been a disappointing season for Gunners fans, and their defensive unit is once again sure to come under intense scrutiny.
The one shining light has been the performance of young midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who impressed last week with two goals and he looks to be the missing cog that has been missing in the Arsenal midfield since the departure of Cesc Fabregas.
Martin O’Neill will be pleased that an important cast of players will be returning to the first team this weekend after some having periods on the sidelines.
Although he should be fit to play, Nicklas Bendtner will be ineligible to feature against Arsenal as he is currently on loan from the club.
However, Lee Cattermole, Craig Gordon and perhaps most importantly Stephane Sessegnon are all in contention to player.
Sessegnon has done an excellent job in lending an attacking hand during Sunderland striker shortage and will need to be at his best if his side are to outshine a powerful-looking Gunners attack.
Among Arsenal’s returns, Kieran Gibbs could prove the easiest on the eye for Arsene Wenger who has failed to field a natural left-back in some time and may consider starting the young Englishman, who is yet to feature this season after struggling against injury.