Arsenalv Sunderland Saturday 4th KO 3:00pm

On Saturday, injury-hit Arsenal host Sunderland in North London as the Gunners look to kick off December with a win and put a miserable November behind them in the process. 

However, the relegation-threatened Black Cats are anything but a pushover and with back-to-back wins under their belt, Sam Allardyce's side ride the crest of a wave into the Emirates. 


In October, Arsene Wenger said that he would "cry" if English football scrapped its tradition of having no winter break. Six weeks on and the Frenchman might very well be crying for the opposite reason. 

By virtue of the fact that an injury crisis has rocked their club, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for not greeting the forthcoming Christmas period with an abundance of cheer. Wenger, who could justifiably adopt a Scrooge-like attitude, certainly isn't. 

With the gruelling festive schedule on the horizon, the month of December comes at a terrible time for a side who have been losing points and players at a rate of knots in recent weeks. Their go-to-guy Alexis Sanchez hobbled off injured in last week's 1-1 draw at Norwich City. 

Before that, combative midfielder Francis Coquelin suffered knee ligament damage in the 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion. Neither will be available until the new year. As it stands, the Gunners, who sit two points behind co-leaders Manchester City and Leicester City in the Premier League table, have no fewer than nine players out injured. 

They need respite but, with six games to come this month, rest and relaxation is not an option. It was tipped to be Arsenal's year in the Premier League, but it is obvious that the spate of injuries have taken its toll on the team and another poor run of form throughout December could well be catastrophic for their chances of winning the title. 

Should they not win the title, it would mark 12 years of failure and Arsenal fans will undoubtedly revisit what happened - or what did not happen - in the summer and ask whether Wenger was right to not sign a single outfield player. The veteran manager, 66, appeared to get away with it for a time, but January cannot come soon enough now. The question is whether they will still be in the title race by 2016. 

Recent form: WWWDLD 

Recent form (all competitions): WLDLWD 


Allardyce was quick to point out that Sunderland remain in a relegation battle despite moving out of the bottom three with their 2-0 win over Stoke City last week.

They are, but there is markedly more reasons for optimism now compared to this time last month. At the beginning of November, Allardyce's troops were 19th in the table and two points shy of safety. 

Four weeks and two wins later and there is much less doom and gloom about the place - for the moment at least. Like Arsenal, the Black Cats will hardly be relishing the Christmas period; not because of injuries, but because Saturday's clash is the first of several daunting fixtures in December. 

They welcome Watford to the Stadium of Light next week, but Sunderland then visit Chelsea and in-form Liverpool, either side of hosting Manchester City. Simply put, it is a horrific way to end a troubling year in which they have sacked two managers and came within three points of dropping down into the Championship. 

At the same time, a decent account in those fixtures would provide an abundance of belief and morale heading into the new year. For the moment, though, things are good. The win over Stoke was their second successive victory after Jermain Defoe struck late to seal a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace a fortnight ago. 

Their first win of the season came on October 25 when the North-East side beat local rivals Newcastle United 3-0 at home, before losing 6-2 at Everton a week later. Consequence of that mauling, nobody in red and white will be getting carried away by their recent wins. With just two points separating them from the danger zone, they cannot afford too

Recent form: LWLLWW 

Team News

Despite the doom and gloom surrounding this injury crisis, there was positive news after Wenger revealed that Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott could make Saturday's squad. 

Koscielny hobbled off the field early on against Norwich, while Walcott has not been seen since the 3-0 League Cup defeat at Sheffield Wednesday in October. 

With Santi Cazorla ruled out for three months, Aaron Ramsey could take up a central midfield role, while Mathieu Flamini is expected to deputise for Coquelin.

Sunderland are not without their injury problems, with Sebastian Larsson and Defoe - both injured in the win over Stoke - ruled out with knee and hamstring issues respectively. Elsewhere, Jack Rodwell is expected back in training on Friday following a month-loan absence, but the visit to North London comes too soon for the midfielder.

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