Arsenal's race to secure a Champions League spot next season faces a stern test on Saturday afternoon. The Gunners travel to face Sunderland four points and two places behind north London rivals Tottenham in fourth. Martin O'Neill's side are 12th in the Premier League and are not at their best right now; a fact that will boost Arsene Wenger's hopes considerably.
Where to Watch
Kick-off is set for 3pm GMT. Live coverage is on Arsenal Player from kick-off; the service is for registered members only. Catch highlights of the game on Match of the Day, on BBC One and BBC One HD, from 10.30pm GMT.
Sunderland started 2013 poorly, losing 3-0 at Liverpool. Since then, the Black Cats have improved and the defeat to Bolton (in the FA Cup replay) aside, they were unbeaten in four games heading into last week's game at Reading. Unfortunately, Jimmy Kebe struck twice at the Madejski Stadium, giving the Royals a 2-1 win.
The team's home form this season is remarkably even, with four wins, draws and defeats spread across 12 games. The results of the last three home games in the league have followed the pattern - with one defeat, one draw and one win. The most recent home fixture was against Swansea City, which ended goalless.
The home team for this game have scored 14 times at the Stadium of Light and conceded 12 times, suggesting they should be good for at least one goal when the Gunners come calling. If they can get an early goal, then they will make it very hard for Arsene Wenger's men to play their natural game. Expect a strong physical game from Sunderland.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have been in reasonably good form in recent games, with three wins from the last five in all competition. However, that statistic obscures the fact they've won only two of the last five league games and failed to beat any one of Chelsea, Manchester City or Liverpool in that period. Furthermore, Arsenal have not won away against top flight opposition since they scraped past Wigan Athletic in mid-December.
Wenger's team comes into this game after a narrow but ultimately deserved 1-0 win over Stoke City last week, after German international Lukas Podolski scored with a deflected free kick. The result keeps Arsenal in the race for a Champions League position but they need better results, particularly against teams above them and those in direct competition for that fourth place, to ensure they remain in Europe's elite tournament.
Arsenal's away form is almost as evenly spread as Sunderland's home form, with four wins, five draws and three defeats from 12 games. The Gunners have scored 16 times on the road and conceded 11 goals.
The numbers suggest a draw is on the cards, with the score probably at 1-1. However, it should be noted England's Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott will be on a high after beating Brazil at Wembley in midweek and that could be enough to push the Gunners to all three points.
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L D W L W
- Last Match: Reading 2 - 1 Sunderland
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): W D W W L
- Last Match: Arsenal 1 - 0 Stoke City
Centre-back Carlos Cuellar (hamstring) may not be available for this match, which means Titus Bramble is likely to continue with former Manchester United defender John O'Shea in defence. Captain Lee Cattermole (knee) is recovering but lacks full fitness and so will not start; he may find a place on the bench though. Republic of Ireland winger James McClean (ankle) is expected to be unavailable after injuring himself while on international duty in mid-week. Another ex-United defender, Wes Brown (knee) is definitely not available. New signing Danny Graham, from Swansea, will likely start from the bench.
Probable Line-Up: Mignolet; Gardner, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose; Larsson, N'Diaye, Vaughan, Johnson; Sessegnon; Fletcher
Laurent Koscielny (calf) faces a late fitness test after tweaking his leg in France's midweek defeat to Germany. Belgian international Thomas Vermaelen (ankle) is unavailable. The good news is Theo Walcott (foot), Francis Coquelin (hamstring) and Aaron Ramsey (calf) are believed fit. Ivory Coast forward Gervinho has returned from international duty at the African Cup of Nations, but may not feature. Left-back Kieran Gibbs (thigh) is unavailable and new signing Nacho Monreal will continue in his place.
Probable Line-Up: Sczcesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Miquel, Monreal; Arteta, Wilshere; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud