A critical week for Arsenal begins with the visit of improving Sunderland to the Emirates and Andrew Atherley reckons Arsene Wenger's side can set up victory with a good start
"The most compelling factor is that the Gunners rarely win at home without establishing a first-half lead, which will give Allardyce some hope in his attempts to frustrate them but also points punters towards Arsenal/Arsenal on the Half Time/Full Time."
Back Arsenal/Arsenal on the Half Time/Full Time at 1.834/5 (1pt)
Arsenal v Sunderland
Saturday December 5, 15:00
The Gunners are fourth, two points behind Manchester City and Leicester City, after last week's 1-1 draw at Norwich, which brought more injury problems and questions for Arsene Wenger about his selection policy.
The chief concern is star striker Alexis Sanchez, who went off after an hour with a hamstring problem having not been rested despite suffering "a little hamstring alarm" in the previous week's Champions League tie. If the Chilean wizard does not recover, Wenger will be short up front as Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott are already sidelined.
Midfielder Santi Cazorla's participation is also in doubt after he hobbled off at the end of the Norwich match with a knee problem. The injuries have mounted up in this area too, with defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin expected to be out for three months after suffering ligament damage and Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta also sidelined.
The signs appear more hopeful for defender Laurent Koscielny, who had to be replaced by Gabriel when he suffered a hip problem after only 11 minutes at Carrow Road. Following treatment, the injury did not appear as serious as first thought.
Wenger is also expected to be able to call on left-back Kieran Gibbs, who has missed the last two matches with a slight calf problem.
But the selection issues are complicated by the fact that Arsenal are facing a crunch Champions League showdown away to Olympiakos on Wednesday, when they need to win to reach the last 16.
Sam Allardyce has quickly got results, with three wins from his first six games lifting Sunderland out of the relegation zone, and that is some achievement considering previous boss Dick Advocaat managed only three wins from his 17 games in charge.
Allardyce deserves credit both for his tactics and selections. Switching to a 3-5-2 formation has provided a better defensive base as well as more attacking options and Duncan Watmore's man-of-the-match performance in last week's 2-0 home win over Stoke vindicated Allardyce's decision to give the young forward his chance.
Watmore was on the pitch for only 40 minutes in the Premier League under Advocaat this season but already has had nearly five times as much playing time for the new manager.
Like Wenger, Allardyce has key injuries after last week's match. Jermain Defoe, Sunderland's top scorer with seven goals this season, was replaced by Watmore after suffering a hamstring problem and in the second half Sebastian Larsson went off with a knee injury. Both are unlikely to be fit to face Arsenal, which restricts Allardyce's options.
The feeling is that Sunderland will set up more defensively, possibly with only one up front on this occasion, leaving Watmore, Jeremain Lens and Adam Johnson as potential impact substitutes (as they were against Stoke).
The last match between the sides was at the Emirates in May, when Sunderland's gritty backs-to-the-wall display earned a goalless draw that confirmed their escape from relegation under Advocaat.
That was the fourth 0-0 in this fixture in the past seven meetings and keeping another clean sheet will be key to Allardyce's game plan. Sunderland's three wins under his management have all been to nil, while they have conceded in his other three games and lost each time.
Since the start of last season, it has generally taken a top side to stop Arsenal without keeping a clean sheet. In that time, Wenger's team have compiled a record of W15 D4 L1 when scoring at home in the Premier League (the defeat was against Manchester United and three of the draws were against Tottenham, twice, and Manchester City) .
Arsenal have been shut out twice in six home games this season but both were against high-class sides (West Ham and Liverpool) and came in their first two matches at the Emirates when arguably they had not yet hit full stride.
The Gunners' record at home to bottom-half teams since the start of the 2013-14 season is W17 D3 L1, which indicates the strength of their chance against Sunderland.
As yet there is little in Sunderland's form to hint at a big upset and the biggest doubt about Arsenal is how they will cope without Sanchez if he is unable to shake off his injury.
They have only a W2 D1 L2 record when Sanchez has not started in the Premier League, although the three failures to win were against top sides (Tottenham twice last season and West Ham this season).
Similarly, Arsenal have won only one out of five without Cazorla in the starting line-up since the start of last season, although again most of the failures were against top sides and could not be attributed to lack of creativity as the Gunners scored nine goals in those five matches.
Half Time/Full Time
The odds are heavily stacked in favour of an Arsenal win as long as they score and, while a Sunderland clean sheet is not unfeasible, a key issue is what a home victory might look like.
There are two key measures, the first being Arsenal's overall record when scoring at home since the start of last season. Fifteen of those 20 matches have been won, with 12 of the 15 wins coming after Arsenal led at half-time, 12 being accompanied by over 2.5 goals and 10 coming by a margin of two goals or more.
Then we can look at their record at home to bottom-half teams, again since the start of last season. Their record is W9 D2 L0, with eight of the nine wins coming after Arsenal led at half-time, seven being accompanied by over 2.5 goals and seven coming by a margin of two goals or more.
The most compelling factor is that the Gunners rarely win at home without establishing a first-half lead, which will give Allardyce some hope in his attempts to frustrate them but also points punters towards Arsenal/Arsenal on the Half Time/Full Time at 1.834/5.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Eight of Arsenal's 11 games at home to bottom-half teams since the start of last season have had over 2.5 goals, although that eventuality is well covered here at odds of 1.645/8.
Under 2.5 goals is most likely to occur if Sunderland can achieve a shutout as they have done several times in the past against Arsenal under various managers, but also happens occasionally with Arsenal wins to nil (three times since the start of last season against bottom-half teams).
With Sunderland having been tightened up by Allardyce, two of their three defeats since he took charge have been 1-0 (the other, though, was the 6-2 thumping at Everton).
It is possible that a low score could arise from an Arsenal win, although it seems better to back a 1-0 win for Arsenal at 8.88/1 or a 2-0 win at 7.413/2, or both, rather than under 2.5 goals at 2.486/4.
Back Arsenal/Arsenal on the Half Time/Full Time at 1.834/5 (1pt)
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Staked: 46 pts
Returned: 36.67 pts
P/L: -9.33 pts