Arsenal Legend: Lose vs Sunderland and we struggle for top four but…

Paul Merson

A trophy magnet during his Gunners playing days, Paul Merson believes the Arsenal versus Sunderland fixture is vital for the former.

For detractors of Arsenal, February has long been the month associated with any falling standards at Ashburton Grove.

While they suffered a one-sided beatdown when they competed at Anfield but lost 5-1 to Liverpool, they did previously defeat Crystal Palace by a handsome 2-0 scoreline, while bouncing back from the heavy loss to secure a point against Manchester United before knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup the following weekend.

As former Highbury son and current Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson notes, though: 'Arsenal were bang unlucky against Bayern Munich,' in their most recent outing, a 2-0 blip to Bayern Munich where Wojciech Szczesny saw red, leaving them a tough challenge on March 11, when they trek to the Allianz Arena for the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 battle.

'They had them on the rack in the first-half and if Mesut Ozil had scored his penalty then it could have been a different game,' he added.

The Gunners have no time to feel downhearted, though, as they face Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon, a fixture that, if history is to repeat itself, favours the home side as Sunderland have not won at Arsenal's manor since November 1983.

Since then, the Black Cats have been tamed and declawed in each and every one of their 14 visits, with ten red and white victories and four draws. Sunderland have also failed to score in four of their five most recent trips.

At the Emirates, Arsenal have been exemplary, winning nine of their 13 home matches in the league, drawing thrice against just one loss while only conceding six. According to the latest Premier League data, Arsenal have not conceded a home goal for seven hours and 36 minutes while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to have revitalised them in North London, too, as all five of his strikes and all five of his assists in the competition have arrived at home.

Stressing the importance of winning tomorrow, Merson said: 'This is now an important game because the top four is getting very tight. Three weeks ago we were talking about them winning the league, but if they don't win this game they may struggle to get in the top four!

'A win here will see the title race back on again and I think they will win,' he explained, before predicting a 2-0 win for his former team. 'Remember, Sunderland are in the Capital One Cup Final next week, something that doesn't come along too often for those players, so I'd be shocked if Wembley wasn't in the back of their minds.'

image: © p_a_h

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