FA Cup 3rd Round Arsenal v Sunderland Saturday 9th KO 3:00pm

Arsenal will get their defence of the FA Cup underway this weekend as they welcome struggling Sunderland to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

The Gunners have won the competition in each of the past two seasons but face an all-Premier League clash at the very start of their quest to make it an historic treble.

Arsenal 

The long, nine-year trophy drought may not yet be completely banished from the memories of Arsenal fans, but the FA Cup has certainly brought welcome relief in the past two years.

The Gunners won the world's oldest cup competition for a record 12th time last season, thrashing Aston Villa in the final just 12 months after squeezing past Hull City. Incredibly, half of those 12 triumphs have come in the Arsene Wenger era, making the Frenchman the most successful modern-style manager in the competition's history.

His six winner's medals matches that of Aston Villa's George Ramsay from 1887-1920. Another success this term would not only put Wenger into an outright lead in that category, it would also see Arsenal become the first side to win the FA Cup three times in a row since Blackburn Rovers managed the feat between 1884-86.

Of course, such dreams are still a long way off, and their immediate focus will be on Sunderland and avoiding a first FA Cup third-round exit under Wenger.

The signs are certainly promising. The Gunners have won each of their last 12 games in this competition and have beaten Premier League opposition in the third round for three years running.

They currently lead the way in the Premier League too, sitting two points clear of Leicester City and three ahead of Manchester City, strengthening the belief that this could be their best chance to win the title since the Invincibles in 2003-04.

Wenger's side have won six of their last seven games to climb to the top of English football in addition to pulling off an unlikely escape in Europe, while their only defeat in their last nine outings was the Boxing Day anomaly against Southampton at St Mary's.

Arsenal have won their last five matches at the Emirates too and are unbeaten in front of their own fans since September, recording victories over the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Manchester United since then.

They have kept seven clean sheets in their 13 home outings this season, while in the Premier League alone only Man City have amassed more points and only Man Utd have conceded fewer goals at home.

The most recent of their home victories came against Sunderland's North-East neighbours Newcastle United last weekend courtesy of Laurent Koscielny's goal, and Wenger will be confident that his side have the quality to make it three wins on the bounce having beaten the Black Cats here a little over a month ago.

Recent form (all competitions): WWWLWW

Sunderland 

Arsenal's win over Newcastle may have taken them one step closer to the Premier League title, but the most important victory of the weekend went the way of Sunderland.

The Blacks Cats took on Aston Villa in a battle between the bottom two that, despite coming in the very first match of 2016, felt like a make-or-break encounter. That was perhaps more true for the stranded Villans than the struggling Black Cats, but the three points gained at the Stadium of Light keep Sunderland very much in the relegation battle and with renewed hope of once again escaping the mire.

It ended a run of five consecutive defeats, the first of which came at the Emirates against Arsenal, and also closed the gap to safety to just four points.

Whether Sam Allardyce's priority of survival will cause him to take one eye off the FA Cup remains to be seen, but he will know full well that cup competitions have provided a welcome distraction for Sunderland in recent years.

Gus Poyet's side made it to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the final of the League Cup amid the backdrop of a relegation battle in 2013-14 before going on to secure top-flight safety.

However, their away form will not fill many fans with confidence that they can go on a similar run this time around.

The Black Cats have picked up a league-low four Premier League points on the road this season, winning just one and losing eight of their 10 outings. Admittedly, it has not been an easy run for them on the road, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City in their last three away games, but they also have the worst defensive record in the league, both away from home and overall.

Defensive reinforcements are, seemingly, on their way, with Bayern Munich's Jan Kirchhoff understood to be nearing a move, although Allardyce has confirmed that a deal for Lamine Kone has broken down.

He is unlikely to have any new faces at his disposal by the weekend, however, and he may be left hoping that Arsenal have one eye on their midweek Premier League match with Liverpool.

Recent form (all competitions): LLLLLW

Team News  

Wenger has revealed that Alexis Sanchez will not be fit for this weekend's encounter as he continues his recovery from the groin injury he sustained at the end of November.

The Chilean remains a few days from making his return, but Mikel Arteta could play some part in the fixture having featured for the club's Under-21 side on Tuesday.

Tomas Rosicky is also closing in on a return but remains sidelined for this match along with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla.

Allardyce's defensive worries have eased of late, at least as far as injuries are concerned, with Younes Kaboul the only one of his centre-backs currently out. He and Sebastian Larsson are expected to return later this month, while there is still a question mark over the seriousness of the hamstring strain suffered by Jack Rodwell. 

08/01/16

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