Sam Allardyce insists Sunderland will have to be on top of their game to claim an away win over Arsenal despite the injury problems that have ravaged the hosts.
Sunderland have pulled out of the Premier League relegation zone with a run of three wins in five matches, as Allardyce has started to make his mark on his new side.
The Wearsiders have not beaten Arsenal away from home in the league since 1983, but would appear to have a strong chance of ending that drought given the number of players absent from Arsenal’s squad owing to injury.
Arsene Wenger without Jack Wilshere (ankle), Danny Welbeck (knee) and Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), while Francis Coquelin and Santiago Cazorla (both knee) are also unavailable along with Mikel Arteta (calf).
Tomas Rosicky remains on the sidelines with a knee problem, but Laurent Koscielny (hip) and Theo Walcott (calf) could feature in the squad as Arsenal aim to avoid a fourth straight league game without a win.
But Allardyce said of fourth-placed Arsenal: “I think the strength in depth of Arsenal’s squad is why they’ve always qualified for Europe and finished in the top four.
“It weakens the side slightly, we have a better chance when those players are not playing, but they’ve still got a top-quality squad of international players throughout.
“If we can play our very best game, then those weaknesses may be able to be exploited. Our best form will be needed [even] if people consider Arsenal weaker without those players.
“We’ve got a particularly difficult December, the challenge for us is to maintain our results. The lads will hopefully show that confidence and determination on Saturday.”
Sunderland have injury problems of their own, with Jermain Defoe is out because of a hamstring concern, Jack Rodwell unavailable with a similar problem and Sebastian Larsson nursing a knee issue.
Arsenal, despite their dip in form and injury worries, are just two points adrift of league leaders Manchester City and manager Wenger is confident his depleted side are up for the challenge of keeping pace at the top.
He told the club’s official website: “I believe first of all it’s always a disappointment to lose the players at an important moment of the season. But on the other hand, it’s a great challenge to take for the team and a great opportunity to show that we are ready for a fight and we can deal with it.
“We prepared ourselves to go through periods like that, and I’m convinced the players are ready. We have gone through a little bit of a bad spell in recent games, but we are two points off the top
“The great opportunity for us is that, despite that bad spell, we are very close. That’s why it’s important that we keep our confidence high and our determination high, and start winning again.
“We want the crowd to be behind the team and help us to do it.”
Key Opta Stats:
– Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 11 top-flight clashes with Sunderland (W7 D4) and have suffered defeat in just one of the last 23 versus them.
– Sunderland have now won as many league games in six games under Sam Allardyce as they had in 17 matches under Dick Advocaat (3).
– Allardyce has lost seven successive Premier League games against Arsenal and has not beaten the Gunners in the competition since May 2010 (Blackburn Rovers 2-1 Arsenal).
– French striker Olivier Giroud has had a hand in five goals in his five Premier League appearances against Sunderland (three goals, two assists).
– Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantillimon has made a league-high 59 saves this season in the Premier League.