Sunderland v Arsenal preview
Gunners face long trip to North East for Premier League test
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @skygraemebailey. Last Updated: 10/02/12 4:04pm
Arsenal face a hectic week of action which will go a long way to shaping their season and Sunderland could have a major say in their fortunes.
The Gunners face the long trip to the North East on Saturday afternoon and will be back at the Stadium of Light little more than a week later for their FA Cup fifth round clash.
In between their double-header with the Black Cats, Arsenal also face AC Milan in midweek in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 clash.
Arsene Wenger has acknowledged what a key week lies ahead for his side, and he has huge respect for the work being done at Sunderland by Martin O'Neill.
Whilst Arsenal will be looking for a win which in theory could take them fourth, they know defeat would mean eighth-placed Sunderland would close to within just four points if they taste success on Wearside.
Arsenal go into the game knowing they hold the upper hand in recent clashes, with Sunderland having beaten them just once in their last 15 league matches.
Sunderland go into the match sweating over the fitness of their midweek FA Cup hero Stephane Sessegnon.
The Benin forward scored an extra-time winner in their fourth round replay win at Middlesbrough, but he is nursing a knock although he is expected to feature.
None of O'Neill's injured players will make the game with Lee Cattermole and Nicklas Bendtner not quite ready to make their returns.
David Vaughan, Wes Brown, Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon are all some weeks away from being involved.
O'Neill does look set to stick with a two-pronged attack, meaning Fraizer Campbell should retain his place in what could be an unchanged starting line-up.
Arsenal look set to be boosted by the return of England full-back Kieran Gibbs, who has not played since October.
Wenger will decide on Saturday whether to start with Gibbs, as he may prefer to save him for the Milan game.
With Bacary Sagna also hoping to start the match, Arsenal could conceivably play their first-choice defence for the first time in four months.
Marouane Chamakh is also available again, but looks set to start from the bench.
Carl Jenkinson is close to a return, but is not expected to be involved for another couple of weeks.
Possible starting XIs
Sunderland Mignolet, Richardson, Turner, Bardsley, O'Shea, Larsson, Gardner, Sessegnon, Colback, McClean, Campbell.
Arsenal Szczesny, Vermaelen , Koscielny, Sagna, Gibbs, Walcott, Song, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta, Van Persie.
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