Arsenal try to bounce back against Cats

BY foxsports • February 19, 2010

Arsenal faces what looks to be the perfect opponent this weekend as it seeks to overcome a demoralizing midweek defeat and stay in contention for the Premier League title.

Bad goalkeeping and unhappiness over a refereeing decision dominated Wednesday's 2-1 loss at FC Porto in the Champions League but the Gunners get the chance to bounce back Saturday against a Sunderland side without a win from its past 12 league matches.

And if Arsenal needed extra motivation at Emirates Stadium, the players need only note that Sunderland's last Premier League victory was the 1-0 result against Arsenal in mid-November.

Although leader Chelsea is at struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, second-place Manchester United could easily drop points at Everton the same day and give Arsenal hope of closing on the top pair.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is looking to draft a few players back into his side to pick up the team.

He may recall first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Almunia after Lukasz Fabianski made a mess of his opportunity to impress against Porto, scoring an own goal and needlessly giving away the free kick that led to the second.

Midfielder Alex Song could also return from injury, although Abou Diaby will be missing because of a medial knee ligament injury.

"He had pain in his knee," Wenger said. "I'd say Song is 80 percent to be back in the squad. Almunia 50:50. But Diaby is zero."

William Gallas, Andrei Arshavin and Eduardo da Silva are still out, with the former pair also likely to miss next weekend's match at Stoke.

Wenger has been criticized by commentators and even some Arsenal fans for refusing to bolster his young and physically unimposing side during the past few transfer windows.

But he remains insistent that his team can close the six-point gap on Chelsea and Sunderland manager Steve Bruce believes him.

"The fellow borders on being a genius," Bruce said. "You look at what he's achieved in this country and a lot of it has been to the detriment of English managers. A lot of chairmen have looked at Arsene Wenger and thought 'if he can do it, the foreign manager is the way to go.'

"But anyone who dares to criticize him is barking up the wrong tree."

Sunderland has arrested its decline somewhat with three straight draws but has still dropped five places to 13th over the past 12 matches and is just three points above the relegation zone.

Sunderland could be without as many as six midfielders, with Lee Cattermole and David Meyler suspended and Jordan Henderson and Andy Reid injured.

Steed Malbranque and Kieran Richardson could also miss out, along with defenders Anton Ferdinand and John Mensah, but the quartet have at least a slim chance of making the match.

Chelsea goes to Wolves seeking to recover from a 2-1 loss at Everton, while Manchester United will be relying on Wayne Rooney to continue his hot streak against his former club.

Rooney's two goals in Wednesday's 3-2 Champions League win at AC Milan took his tally for the season to 25.

United manager Alex Ferguson might be tempted to give his striker a break, but he needs Rooney's goals as badly as ever when the two teams meet as United tries to catch Chelsea in the Premier League title race.

Rooney has started the last 15 league and cup games, scoring 13 times, and Ferguson is likely to stick with his tactic of fielding the striker alongside two wide players - leaving Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen on the bench.

"There has been an improvement in his game over the last two months," Ferguson said. "Confidence has a lot to do with that but it's also his ability as a player."

Also Saturday, West Ham hosts fellow struggler Hull and Stoke is at last-place Portsmouth.

There are five games Sunday, with Aston Villa vs. Burnley, Blackburn vs. Bolton, Fulham vs. Birmingham, Manchester City vs. Liverpool and Wigan vs. Tottenham.

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