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Sunderland V Arsenal at Stadium of Light : Match Preview
Published : 11 Feb 2012 15:12:43
O`Neill warns of Arsenal threat
Martin O'Neill has warned his players Arsenal are more than just a one-man team as they prepare for an intriguing double-header.
The Black Cats will put an unbeaten home record under their new manager on the line when the Gunners visit the Stadium of Light in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday, seven days before they return in the FA Cup fifth round.
They will do so with Arsenal`s Dutch striker Robin van Persie having taken his tally for the season 28 in all competitions with a hat-trick in last Saturday's 7-1 demolition of Blackburn. However, O'Neill knows his side will have to do more than stop van Persie if they are to emerge with anything to show for their efforts.
He said: "That is too simplistic. They have enough talent in their team. "They are playing Champions League football next week, which is a credit to them. "They have qualified once again into the latter stages of the competition, so I am not so sure that one man could just carry that on his own.
"They have talent, they have a bit of pace in their team as well, and their victory last week will give them encouragement and confidence for the rest of the season."
In addition, Sunderland will have to handle an emerging star in the shape of 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who struck twice in the same game to confirm his glittering potential.
O'Neill said: "I saw him play a couple of weeks ago against Leeds United in the FA Cup and I was really impressed with him. "He's very, very strong, he is very quick, he seems to know what it's all about and for one so young, he looks as if he has got a real future ahead of him."
Arsenal's visit to Wearside is the biggest test for some time of the Black Cats' impressive recovery under the Ulsterman. A run of just two defeat in 13 games has been capped by an unbeaten sequence of five outings which has brought nine league points and progression to the last 16 in the FA Cup.
But a cautious O'Neill is reluctant to accept that there are no dangers lurking around the corner. He said: "If you win some matches, you get that confidence that we talked about and self-belief, and those things are pretty important when you are going into football games.
"But there is a difference between having respect for your opponents - which we have to have because we are not really good enough to treat anybody without it - and having a part of the fear removed because you are actually doing okay yourselves.
"That's been the case in point, but we could come unstuck here against Arsenal very, very easily. Other teams have over recent times, so it could be a problem for us. "But we are going into the game in a great frame of mind, anyway."
Loan signings Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos return to the squad after being ineligible in midweek. Arsene Wenger feels Arsenal should be positive as they enter the defining period of their season.
The Gunners head to Sunderland looking to keep up with fourth-placed Chelsea, the gap now down to just three points following last weekend's results which saw Wenger's men beat Blackburn 7-1 while the Blues were held to a 3-3 draw by Manchester United.
Next week, Arsenal travel to AC Milan for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie before returning to the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup fifth round on February 18.
With England defender Kieran Gibbs the latest player to return to a squad which has been depleted by injury, Wenger believes the Gunners can come through a make-or-break spell.
"Overall the situation looks a lot more positive in a period that will decide our season and therefore it is good to have the players back," the Arsenal manager said. "It is that important because in one week we play three games in three different competitions.
"In every single competition we are, of course, in a position where we want to win our games."
Wenger added: "Sunderland are doing well, and we have rebuilt our confidence. "It is important that we go in a positive mind there and that we come back with three points."
As well as the availability of Gibbs, striker Marouane Chamakh has returned from the African Nations Cup but Gervinho remains away as Ivory Coast prepare for the final.
Sunderland V Arsenal - view commentary, squad, and statictics of the game live.