Well, it turns out the game against Norwich City was not just a nightmare, and we have indeed lost Sanchez and Cazorla for the long term. Coupled with the rest of the absentee list, it means that at this point our Injury XI looks better than the Fit XI (with the exception of Mesut Ozil). Nevertheless, the Premier League marches on and we must field whoever we can for the game against Sunderland today afternoon.
The Black Cats have always been a side fond of physical play and route one football; something that manager Sam Allardyce will have encouraged even further. This will pose a massive challenge for Arsenal at home, since Sunderland are sure to defend deep and in numbers; and we cannot easily break through without the pace of players like Sanchez and Walcott up front.
However, the luxury of team selection is not something that manager Arsene Wenger enjoys right now. Below is our predicted lineup for today, also known as ‘Players who are not crocked yet’.
Petr Cech in goal. The veteran keeper has saved us a fair few points already this season, and I feel that he will have a big role to play today as well.
In central defence, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista are the likely choices. The manager seemed to hint that Koscielny was not ready to play during his press conference, which means that the Mertesacker-Gabriel duo need to figure out how to play together asap.
On the flanks, we will start Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin, two of the brightest sparks of our season so far. Their contributions in both attack and defence have been instrumental to our success, and when they both simultaneously had a bad game against Norwich, our attacking threat decreased drastically. Hopefully they are back to normal once more.
Mathieu Flamini is the likely option for the holding midfield role. The manager hinted that he might pick Calum Chambers to play there instead, and Chambers was handed a start with the U-21’s to get him some match fitness; however I feel that Flamini will get the nod due to his superior experience, even though his defensive abilities are suspect.
Flamini’s partner is likely to be Aaron Ramsey. With the exception of the Welshman, we have no fit central midfielders left in the senior squad, and Ramsey has always played best when started in the centre of the pitch. Hopefully he finds his shooting boots tonight.
Mesut Ozil will be the spearhead in his usual No. 10 role. The German has been the star of the show so far; scoring and assisting at will. His contributions will decide the course of today’s game, and it is up to the rest of the team to ensure that he gets the ball in good areas.
Joel Campbell will start on the left, in lieu of Alexis. The Costa Rican forward has shown good workrate whenever he is on the pitch, however he seems to lack the incisive edge required to convert opportunities. Now that he has an extended run in the side, he needs to prove his worth to the manager or risk being sold.
Olivier Giroud will start as the striker tonight. The Frenchman was a marginal figure for most of the game against Norwich, and his frustrations got the better of him, causing him to miss a couple of good opportunities late on. He needs to calm himself and focus during today’s game, since every opportunity will count and we need the goals badly. With Walcott back in training, Giroud knows that his place will soon come under threat once more; hopefully that motivates him to do better today.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will start on the right wing, where he had a solid performance as a substitute last game. His pace and crossing ability were a welcome addition out wide, and more of the same will be expected from him tonight as well. The youngster has often been a fringe player at the club, this could be his breakout moment.