Mesut Ozil is set to be put straight into the Arsenal team for the trip to Sunderland on Saturday as Arsene Wenger contends with further fitness concerns. The record signing from Real Madrid has been away on international duty with Germany and only trained with his new teammates for the first time on Thursday. His preparation has been further hampered by an illness that meant he was unable to train the following day. Yet, the attacking midfielder is likely to be needed with Tomas Rosicky returning from international action with the Czech Republic with a hamstring injury that means he joins Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the sidelines.
Arsenal have further problems with Yaya Sanogo coming back from the France Under-21s with a back injury and Per Mertesacker ruled out with an illness. There is better news with Wenger confirming that Thomas Vermaelen is back in full training and could be in the squad at the Stadium of Light. He is highly unlikely to be thrown straight back into the team, though, meaning that Bacary Sagna will again move to center-back. And, in timely fashion, the France international has stated that he sees his future in the center of a back four.
"Why not [play there in future]? I'm getting old and at right back you need to put in a lot more effort,” he said, according to Arsenal.com. “I don't know how long I can do that to my maximum so maybe one day I will be able to play center-back.”
The transfer window closed with Sunderland having overhauled their squad to the tune of 14 new arrivals. Paulo di Canio now has the task of molding them into a successful team, something with which he has struggled in the opening weeks of the campaign. After his side claimed just one point from their first three Premier League games, Di Canio is fully aware of the work needed to integrate so many new faces.
“For the players that remained in here [during the break] we have had some very good sessions and taken advantage,” he said, according to Sunderland’s official website. “We have had full immersion in terms of strategy and tactics. We are still a work in progress.
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“Now the transfer market has finished we can work with the players we have. This is the squad which will be together at a minimum until January.”
Di Canio could hand a first start of the season to Steven Fletcher for the visit of Arsenal. Last season’s top scorer came off the bench two weeks ago at Crystal Palace and got his side’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat. John O’Shea will be out with an injury, however, while Emanuele Giaccherini faces a late fitness test on a hamstring problem.
D: Celustka, Diakite, Cuellar, Colback
M: Johnson, Larsson, Cabral, Giaccherini
F: Altidore, Fletcher
D: Jenkinson, Sagna, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Ramsey, Wilshere
Walcott, Ozil, Cazorla
Prediction: There will be much excitement to see Ozil in action for Arsenal for the first time and, in tandem with Santi Cazorla, the attacking midfielder should supply Olivier Giroud with plenty of ammunition. Yet, having Ozil as the club’s only major summer signing could be exposed with Wenger’s squad painfully thin and with little options off the bench should he need to change the game. That is unlikely to be an issue against a Sunderland side that looks to be struggling to get to grips with Di Canio’s massive changes. A third-straight league win for the visitors looks to be on the cards.
Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off from the Stadium of Light at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available via NBC Sports Live Extra.