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Sunderland v Arsenal: Tough Test For Gunners

Arsenal Star Andrey Arshavin

Written by Craig Wilmann

Arsene Wenger’s recent criticism of overly physical play in the Premier League is nothing new. The wily Frenchman has been fighting this particular battle for many years now and, given the unfortunate regularity with which Arsenal players have suffered serious injuries while on the field of play, it is easy to understand why.

A trip to the stadium of light; therefore, is unlikely to be one that Wenger approaches with any real relish. The Sunderland manager Steve Bruce, a tough-tackling, physical centre back in his playing days, has a team that embodies his fighting spirit. With battlers such as John Mensah, Titus Bramble and, in particular, Lee Cattermole, whose recently ill-disciplined performances are unlikely to lead to a transfer bid from Arsenal any time soon, Sunderland certainly know how to play a physical game. Worryingly for Wenger, they know how to play football too and, in Darren Bent, they possess a potent striker in peak form. Failure in tricky away games such as these is what has undermined Arsenal’s failed title bids over the last six seasons. In this fixture last season, they were beaten by a solitary Darren Bent goal and the previous year it took a last minute goal by Cesc Fabregas to salvage a point. The fact that this year’s match comes three days after a Champions League tie with Braga, comfortable as it may have been, makes the task slightly harder as Sunderland have had four extra days to prepare.

To call this Arsenal’s first test of the season, however, would be unfair on Wenger’s men. The Gunners’ previous away games, against Liverpool and Blackburn, were certainly not the easiest and a return of four points will have pleased their manager. Yet this tough run of away fixtures does not end at the Stadium of Light, with Arsenal’s next two league matches away from The Emirates Stadium being against Chelsea and Manchester City, two stadiums where Arsenal also failed to gain any points last season.

With this in mind, and with Chelsea making such a barnstorming start to the Premier League season, Arsene Wenger will be desperate for all three points at the Stadium of Light. If his team fail to record a win, they will likely require victory at Stamford Bridge or the City of Manchester Stadium to avoid losing significant ground in the title race. Momentum is crucial in the Premier League and if Arsenal once again fail to gain a point from this tough trio of away games, their chances of ending a seven year wait for Premier League glory in May will be very slim.

Despite the obvious threats they pose, tonight’s fixture against Sunderland is clearly the most winnable game of the three and their performance tonight may be a sign of how they will fare against Chelsea and Man City. Having already won at Ewood Park this season, Arsenal have already gained three points at a stadium they left empty handed last term. Victory over Sunderland this evening would signify a genuine improvement from last season and give the squad great confidence ahead of the trips to Chelsea and Man City. Anything else and Arsenal’s great start to the season may soon begin to turn sour.

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