Arsenal will hope to kick off their defence of Football Association Cup trophy with a victory over fellow top-flight outfit Sunderland on Saturday afternoon at Ashburton Grove.
The Gunners will be without big-game player Alexis Sanchez, who was initially pencilled in to return against the Rokerites, thanks to a setback. Mikel Arteta who all but buried his career at the Hawthorns earlier this season has seemingly vacated the treatment table, but will likely sit out the fixture. In addition, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky will not find their names on the teamsheet for obvious reasons.
What this fixture means to Arsenal
The London club ended their nine-year wait for a trophy by lifting the FA Cup two seasons ago and defended it successfully last campaign, thus becoming the tenth club to achieve the very feat. The French manager has claimed that his side will work their socks off to see off the Stadium of Light side in the third round and that says volumes about the importance of this fixture.
“The thinking is to give absolutely everything to qualify. We are the holders of the cup and I know as well by experience that it is very important that you get in the competition and that you have a successful third round. It’s a tricky one, always, the third round.”
Despite the attempts of nitpicking supporters such as Piers Morgan, FA Cup still stands as arguably the most prestigious club competition in European football and the holders will, at all costs, fight to prevent a major upset in a bid to make it three in a row.
How Arsenal will lineup
Given their injury crisis, manager Arsene Wenger may land his fringe players, despite him claiming not to have decided whether to start youngsters this weekend. Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs and the likes can be expected to feature in the starting lineup following a string of off-the-bench league appearances.
“The team news is that, from last week, we have no big injuries, and the squad will be similar to the squad who played the last game against Newcastle. Will a young player or two start? I haven’t decided yet.”
Arsenal should rest worn-out players, particularly Hector Bellerin, whose performance level wanes with increased toil. David Ospina has set his sights on a move to Turkey this summer, but that may not stop Arsene from offering his number one Petr Cech his much-deserved rest. Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide should start unless Arsene decides to launch an all-out attack on Sunderland.
How Arsenal have fared against Sunderland
Arsenal have a rather brilliant record against the Black Cats as they boast a win percent of about 55.56. However, Martin O’Neill-inspired Sunderland hammered the Gunners 2-0 to knock them out of the fifth-round of FA Cup in 2012 and Arsenal supporters will hope to not go through a déjà vu.
How Arsenal will perform
As the visitors find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle, their manager Sam Allardyce will likely not risk his first-team players. Arsenal have a comfortable victory in their hands unless it turns out to be one of those days for the men in red and white.
Arsenal vs Sunderland Possible Line Ups
Arsenal vs Sunderland Stats
- The last time these two sides met in the FA Cup, Sunderland eliminated Arsenal in February 2012, courtesy of a 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light.
- Arsenal have not lost an FA Cup tie in 12 games, since Blackburn beat them 1-0 in February 2013 at the Emirates in the Fifth Round.
- No manager has won the FA Cup more times than Arsene Wenger (6). His first game in the competition was against Sunderland in the Third Round in 1997.
- Arsenal have not failed to progress from the Third Round in nearly 20 years, since losing a replay to Sheffield United 1-0 at Bramall Lane in January 1996 (W18 D5).
Stats via Dailymail
Arsenal vs Sunderland Prediction
A 2-0 win for the home side.