The Emirates Stadium is gearing up for a third round FA Cup contest between Arsenal and Sunderland (15:00).
The 3 o’clock kickoff witnesses top of the table Arsenal up against a visiting side currently occupying nineteenth place in the Premier League.
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Seeing as Sunderland don’t look like climbing out of the relegation zone any time soon, the FA Cup may well be one of their only hopes of showcasing their abilities this season.
Their chances of progressing are slim, however, as Arsenal are playing some of their best football in years and are many people’s pick for league winners heading into the new year.
Few would predict anything other than a convincing victory for Arsene Wenger’s men – but upsets happen every year, and the visiting Sunderland fans will draw hope from that on Saturday.
The Gunners have been in impressive form as of late, running up a series of consecutive victories broken only by a heavy Boxing Day defeat away at Southampton.
That blip can be chalked up to the unpredictability of the festive fixtures as otherwise Arsenal have enjoyed impressive wins over Man City and Olympiakos.
The Gunners have been defensively secure recently, with Laurent Koscielny in particular singled out by Arsene Wenger. He told EPSN:
He was a bit like Cannavaro. Not too tall, but very mobile, read the game very well and had great interception qualities.
“I was told by a friend of mine who was his coach a few years earlier that he was a quality player, so I kept an eye on him
Home fans who were hoping for the return of Alexis Sanchez will be disappointed, according to the BBC – Arsenal are hesitant to rush him back into action following a hamstring complaint.
A more likely date for his return will be the upcoming fixture against Stoke. Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky all remain unavailable due to ongoing injury problems.
The visitors have had a dreadful run of form of late with their only win coming against fellow league strugglers and relegation candidates Aston Villa.
Other than that victory, Sunderland have chalked up five consecutive losses, including heavy defeats to Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
The last time the two sides involved in this third round clash met resulted in Arsenal pulling off a convincing 3-1 victory at the Emirates.
Their chances of dishing out revenge on Saturday are hurt by their injury concerns, including Younes Kaboul who will be unavailable due to a hamstring problem, and Sebastian Larsson who is out with a knee complaint.
It remains to be seen whether Wenger chooses to rest key members of the Arsenal side ahead of the Sunderland game.
However, the chances are even a second choice home team would be able to beat the visitors.
It is hard to foresee anything other than a thorough win and smooth progression to the fourth round for Arsenal.