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Preview: Arsenal vs. Sunderland

Sports Mole previews Tuesday night's Premier League clash between top-four hopefuls Arsenal and relegated Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal have the chance to ensure that the top-four race goes down to the final day of the Premier League season when they host relegated Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Gunners are currently three points adrift of the Champions League qualification places and require either Liverpool or Manchester City to slip up if they are to stand any chance of retaining their place in Europe's top-tier competition.


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on the touchline during the match against Liverpool on March 4, 2017© SilverHub

Say what you will about Arsene Wenger's recent record as Arsenal boss - when all is said and done the Frenchman will go down as the best manager the club has ever had.

Winner of three Premier League titles - including an Invincible season - and a record-equalling six FA Cups - a tally which he could yet improve this term - Wenger has overseen the most successful extended period of the club's history.

Perhaps the defining feature of his time in charge has been his faultless record of qualifying for the Champions League in each of his 20 full seasons at the helm, although that is now under greater threat than at any other point during his tenure.

The Gunners looked to be out of the race following a spell of just two wins in eight league games from the end of January to mid-April, but they have since made a late surge with five wins from their last six.

Saturday's 4-1 drubbing of Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium - a venue where Arsenal have traditionally struggled in recent years - outlined their intentions to fight until the end, but Liverpool responded with an emphatic 4-0 win over West Ham United a day later to leave Arsenal on the brink of Europa League football.

The Reds now need only a win at home to relegated Middlesbrough to seal their spot in the top four, which could leave Manchester City as the most likely targets for Arsenal to steal in front of.

City are also in action on Tuesday as they host West Bromwich Albion in their own game in hand before completing the campaign away to Watford knowing that a slip-up in either would open the door for Arsenal to make it 21 consecutive Champions League seasons.

The Gunners must first ensure that they win their remaining games - at home to Sunderland and Everton - which they will be favourites to do having lost just one of their last 16 league outings at the Emirates Stadium, at the hands of Watford in January.

Wenger's side have won their last three without conceding a goal, and another shutout against the division's second-worst attack on Tuesday would see them make it four home clean sheets in a row for the first time since February 2014.

Another banner was flown over the bet365 Stadium calling for Wenger to leave the club at the end of the season - a reminder that Arsenal's late surge is not enough to completely appease the fans - but dissenting voices against the Frenchman have quietened down in recent weeks.

With his lips still sealed regarding his plans beyond the end of the season, there is the prospect that this could be Wenger's penultimate league game in charge of the Gunners, but he has insisted that even missing out on a Champions League place would not affect those plans.

Despite the tumultuous nature of this season Arsenal are actually two points better off than at the same stage of the previous campaign and could finish with a tally of 75 points, which would represent the biggest points haul to have missed out on a top-four finish in Premier League history.

However, the Gunners are relying on others to ensure that it is enough this time around, and should they fall short then even an FA Cup final victory over Chelsea at Wembley may not be enough to salvage their season.

Recent form: WWLWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWWW


David Moyes looks dejected during the Premier League game between Middlesbrough and Sunderland on April 26, 2017© SilverHub

If Arsenal fans think that they have endured a miserable season, they need only look at Sunderland to realise that things aren't really that bad.

The Black Cats have been resigned to playing Championship football next season since the end of April and realistically would require victories away to Arsenal and Chelsea in their final two matches simply to avoid bottom spot.

David Moyes's side went a long way to dragging Hull City down with them courtesy of a 2-0 victory earlier this month, but they couldn't do the same against Swansea City last weekend as the South Wales outfit picked up a win which ultimately secured their Premier League status for another season.

That victory over Hull is Sunderland's only triumph in their last 12 outings, while since Christmas they have won just two of 21 games across all competitions, so it is no surprise to see them propping up the table.

Despite the best efforts of Jermain Defoe - who is surely now entering the final two games of his Sunderland career - the Black Cats have struggled most with scoring goals this season, failing to find the back of the net on a league-high 19 occasions.

Ten of those have come in their last 12 games as they went down with a whimper, with Moyes's side having scored just four goals in the Premier League since early February.

Only Burnley and Hull City have amassed fewer points than Sunderland away from home this season, although their victory at the KCOM Stadium recently means that they now have the chance to record back-to-back away league wins for the first time since May 2014, when they beat Chelsea and Manchester United in their great escape.

Sunderland face as difficult a finale to the current season, but there will be no great escape this time around and Moyes will have already put the wheels in motion for the club's first campaign in the second tier for a decade.

The Scot will, of course, want his side to put up a fight for their pride at the end of the campaign, but he may not expect it. He himself has lost 15 times to Wenger in the Premier League - his most against any manager in the division - while in all competitions he has suffered 19 defeats at the hands of Wenger's Arsenal, making him the Frenchman's favourite opponent.

Most fans will be expecting defeats in these last two games, but their eyes will already be firmly fixed on emulating their fierce rivals Newcastle United in bouncing straight back into the top tier at the first time of asking next season.

Recent form: LDLLWL

Team News

Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring against Southampton in the Premier League on May 10, 2017© SilverHub

Arsenal will give a late fitness test to Alexis Sanchez, who picked up a knock to his thigh moments before scoring against Stoke at the weekend.

The Gunners are also sweating over the fitness of Laurent Koscielny after he suffered a recurrence of a calf problem, and Wenger is unlikely to take any risks with key players considering the FA Cup final is on the horizon.

Kieran Gibbs is expected to be back available and could replace Koscielny in the side, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains sidelined with a hamstring problem and faces a race to be fit in time for the final.

Olivier Giroud will be hopeful of retaining his place up front after his brace against Stoke took him onto 98 goals for the club in all competitions. The striker is also only one goal short of becoming just the third player - after Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott - to have scored 50 goals at the Emirates.

Sunderland, meanwhile, could be without Jason Denayer (thigh) and Victor Anichebe (hamstring) after both players limped off during the first half of their defeat to Swansea on Saturday.

George Honeyman, Steven Pienaar and Lee Cattermole are also doubts for the visitors, but Bryan Oviedo could feature having recovered from a hamstring injury.

Defoe is expected to lead the line once again, although he has failed to score in his previous nine visits to the Emirates Stadium and has only ever once scored away to Arsenal - in a 3-1 defeat at Highbury with West Ham in January 2003.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Holding, Mustafi, Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Monreal; Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud

Sunderland possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Jones, Kone, O'Shea, Oviedo; Larsson, Gibson, Ndong; Borini, Defoe, Khazri

Head To Head

Arsenal have dominated this fixture in recent years, going 14 Premier League matches without defeat against the Black Cats (W9 D5) stretching back to November 2009.

That is Arsenal's only loss in their last 26 league meetings with the Black Cats, while the Gunners have not been beaten at home in the league by Sunderland since 1983 - a run of 17 matches which includes 12 victories.

The reverse fixture in October ended 4-1 to Arsenal in a match that saw both Sanchez and Giroud help themselves to braces - the latter of whom came off the bench to score with his first two touches.

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We say: Arsenal 3-0 Sunderland

Arsenal's good spell of form may have come just too late, but even after they saw a top-four spot slip further away at the weekend they should have enough to beat Sunderland on Tuesday. Arsenal have the better form, the home advantage and the bigger incentive - it should be fairly comfortable for the Gunners.

Who will win Tuesday's Premier League clash between Arsenal and Sunderland?

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Sunderland manager David Moyes during the Premier League match against Bournemouth on April 29, 2017
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