A poor fortnight for Arsenal has seen them slip back to fourth, and the Gunners need to get back to winning ways against a Sunderland side who have been rejuvenated under Sam Allardyce.
Last weekend’s draw at Norwich saw Arsene Wenger criticised by Arsenal fans for risking the fitness of Alexis Sanchez, as the Chilean was withdrawn with an injury during the match at Carrow Road; there is a growing sense that, yet again, injuries may halt their title challenge.
The Gunners went through November without winning, picking up just two points from an available nine – a run which has brought them back down to earth after a perfect October.
Arsenal are unbeaten at the Emirates since their surprise opening day defeat at the hands of West Ham, and must ensure that record continues if they are to avoid seeing their rivals gain yet more ground.
Sunderland arrive in North London on the back of consecutive wins and clean sheets – they haven’t won three in a row in the league since their ‘Great Escape’ at the end of the 2013/14 season.
The win at home to Stoke last weekend saw the Black Cats climb out of the relegation for the first time this campaign, and also saw Duncan Watmore’s stock continue to rise – the youngster scored his second league goal of the season in the win over the Potters before this week collecting his economics degree from Newcastle University.
Despite having not achieved a league win at Arsenal since 1983, the Wearsiders have managed to pick up three 0-0 draws in their last five visits to the Emirates, including the point which secured their survival last season. It is a scoreline that Allardyce would undoubtedly be happy to see again come 5pm on Saturday.
Theo Walcott could return to the Arsenal squad after missing the last five weeks with a calf injury, and Laurent Koscielny could play despite picking up a rock to his hip in the draw with Norwich last weekend.
However, Santi Cazorla has been ruled out for up to four months with a knee injury picked up in the same match, while Alexis Sanchez will be missing with a hamstring problem.
For the visitors, Jermain Defoe is missing with a hamstring injury, Seb Larsson will also be sidelined with a knee injury, but Billy Jones is available again after being banned for the win over Stoke last Saturday.
League Position: Arsenal – 4th (27 pts); Sunderland – 17th (12 pts)
Last Meeting: Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland (May 20, 2015)
Form: Arsenal – WWWDLD; Sunderland – LWLLWW
Key Players: Arsenal – Mesut Ozil; Sunderland – Duncan Watmore
Shoot Says: Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland