Defensive Decisions key to success at Sunderland

There has been huge focus from blogs and on twitter this week on the performances of our front 3 against Blackburn which after 7 goals is not surprising. There have been two primary themes for this discussion, leaving the usual financial debate to one side. The first revolves around the decision facing Wenger with regard to his wingers when Gervinho returns from Africa. The second emerging from the idiotically indiscreet England camp is the real possibility of Oxlade-Chamberlain being announced in the full squad for the forthcoming friendly with Holland. Added to the fans discussion our own skipper has thrown his considerable weight behind both the Ox and Theo this week.

Given the above been covered by so many and having already made my feelings clear that Rosicky should be retained in the advanced midfield role for now, I wish to consider our improving defensive options for the Sunderland match specifically. The reason I find this interesting now is that I consider the back four selections crucial given the new improved Black Cats, under Martin O’Neill. Two months ago Per Mertesacker would have been a nailed on selection against a team a team set up by Steve Bruce, but it is my contention that Per should sit out this weekend’s trip to the Stadium of Light.

After resting Frazer Campbell at the start last week against Stoke I consider it a certainty he will play from the off against Arsenal. Campbell is fast, fresh and confident having scored in his first 2 games back after a huge time out injured. Sunderland will therefore be lining up a traditional 442, with Campbell partnering Sessegnon. This being the case I would argue we are facing the fastest front two combination in the EPL and unlike the Sunderland of old the attacks will be swift, intricate and mostly on the deck. If I am correct our central pairing must be Koscielny and Vermaelen to counter the considerable threat this pairing will pose. This would always be my favoured central pairing anyway and I think once they begin playing regularly together our potential to leak ‘silly’ goals might lessen. Mertesacker would be simply too slow to combat either Black Cat striker both for pace and in the turn.

If I am right and Vermaelen moves inside this leaves the decisions of the full backs.Wenger has suggested Gibbs still needs a reserve outing and the next match is not until next week. Francis Coquelin has been rightly praised for his performances of late and his greater solidity has allowed Theo more freedom than I believe he felt with Djourou at right back. The fact that he is naturally a midfielder has also seen him join the attack with great effect, providing an assist against Blackburn. Coquelin is fast proving a fan favourite, as a recent piece I wrote for O Posts on him proved with over 10000 hits (http://tinyurl.com/73lnsj7). Like his compatriot Flamini before him he has successfully filled in at full back and I think with his pace and confidence he should stay there this weekend, to face the dynamic new force that is James McClean. MacCean will be looking to hit the by-line and cut back for the incoming strikers and I think Coquelin can handle this threat. I also feel that Wenger is mindful that it would be better against a pacey attack to utilise Sagna at left back and I believe this was why he made the substitutions the way he did against Blackburn. He gave Sagna more game time after his long term absence but gave it to him at left back. Sagna has years more experience and premiership know how than Coquelin and therefore shoud be better equipped to play ostensibly on his wrong foot against a wily old pro like Seb Larsson. In addition as good as Larsson’s delivery may be he has the speed and trickery of a Bentley so will certainly not out flank one of the best full backs in world football even on his wrong side.

So there you go. The same front 6 for me with one change only fin defence rom the side that beat Blackburn. However a crucial tactical switch with Vermaelen partnering Koscielny to combat a fast but non aerial threat from the Black Cats and Sagna returning where he finished on Saturday at left back. I see us scoring with ease against an unsettled Sunderland defence but with we have to line up without the ‘BFG German’ in this match.

(I may of course find myself updating should Sunderland suffer injuries in their cup replay v Middlesbrough)

Until next time thanks for reading  

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