Sunderland host Arsenal this afternoon at the Stadium of Light, but did you know:
1. Two late goals saw Sunderland’s wayward start to the season continue as they fell to a 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. The ever-threatening Steven Fletcher powered in a header on his return to the first-team following injury but it was not enough to spare Paolo Di Canio’s side a demoralizing result.
2. Adam Johnson will be looking to improve on what has been a somewhat quiet start to the season for the England winger. Johnson has provided five crosses so far this term but has yet to register an assist.
3. John O’Shea may have been sent off against Crystal Palace last time out but his manager may well now regret his decision to publicly criticize his captain in the wake of their defeat. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, no other Sunderland player can boast a better tackle success rate than his 81.8% from 11 attempted challenges. The Black Cats will have to find some other way of replacing his defensive leadership and organizational skills against a free-flowing Arsenal side this afternoon.
4. It must feel like déjà vu for Sunderland fans this season as once again they must turn to Fletcher alone for goals. He scored last time out with his first and only attempt on goal, but will require some support from his Sunderland teammates who have previously only been able to muster a solitary goal from 24 attempts on goal between them. Fletcher is 7/1 with 888sport.com to score the first goal this weekend.
5. Di Canio will be hoping that Cabral can add some stability to his midfield this season. The new signing has shown he has what it take to be a dominant figure in the Sunderland midfield, quickly establishing a solid average rate of a pass in the opponent’s half once every 3.8 minutes during his 90 minutes on the pitch so far.
6. Despite Arsene Wenger being under substantial pressure before their North London derby against Tottenham, his Arsenal side came through after a stand-out finish from Olivier Giroud proved enough for the Gunners to claim a 1-0 victory. Star signing Mesut Ozil is expected to make his debut against Sunderland today, a creative prospect that must have Giroud eager to get back in the hunt for more goals at the Stadium of Light.
7. It appears as though Giroud has finally found his feet in the Premier League after an up-and-down first season in English football. However, one wonders if there aren’t even greater plaudits in store for the French international should he find greater accuracy in front of goal. Giroud has actually been surprisingly wasteful when it comes to testing the keeper, being on target with just 44.4% of his nine attempts on goal so far this season. Giroud is a 7/5 to score at any time with 888sport.com.
8. Whilst his creativity, vision and technique are beyond reproach, Santi Cazorla would do well to leave some of the defensive work to some of his more deep-lying colleagues. According to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the Spanish wizard has lost 15 out of the 16 tackles he has committed himself to this season.
9. Much has been made of the return to form of Aaron Ramsey in recent weeks, the Welshman appearing to have regained much of the confidence he lost following his horrific leg break back in 2010. Nowhere has this resurgence been typified more than in his defensive work, with Ramsey throwing himself into challenges with gusto as he continues to evolve in his deeper lying role in the Arsenal midfield. His stats back-up this level of commitment to the cause, with no player in the league who was on the winning side last time out being able to surpass his 11 total tackles.
10. Per Mertesacker has been credited as being instrumental in persuading Ozil to join himself and fellow German international Lukas Podolski at the Emirates. However, it is not just in helping Arsenal secure deals off the field where the giant centre-half has been making his presence felt this season. He has made more defensive contributions (successful tackles, blocks, interceptions, clearances) than any other Arsenal player with 27.
11. Remarkably, as if to further showcase his excellent reading of the game, Mertesacker has also attempted just one tackle this season, the joint lowest of any centre-back in the league (tied with Gary Cahill) according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.