After the rather annoying midweek break for friendly internationals it's back to the real business of Premier League football for Arsenal today. They face a tricky enough trip to a Sunderland team that have turned their season around over the last couple of months. Sunderland are now pushing to get into the top half of the table after flirting with the relegation zone for a while.
They have some pretty good players in Stephen Fletcher, Adam Johnson, Stephanne Sessegnon and of course Simon Mignolet in goal. When they came to Arsenal in the opening game of the season they set their stall out to defend and left with a creditable 0-0 draw. A lot has changed since then with Arsenal losing their defensive stability, but also discovering their goalscoring touch at home in particular.
Arsenal have now scored more goals at home than any other team in the league, but today's game is away. They have managed to keep some sort of defensive stability away from home still and only City and Swansea have conceded less goals away from home than Arsenal. They are struggling to score away from home though with only four wins and 16 goals in 12 league games.
Sunderland have only won four of their 12 home games and few teams have conceded less goals at home than them. All the statistics would seem to point to a fairly low scoring affair with a goal at most between the teams. It will probably come down to whichever teams makes the most of what limited chances they get.
Arsenal have been a team if two halves in recent times with their second half performances usually being far better than the first. This has been more evident at home where the pressure is on them to make all the play and the players have seemed very nervous at times. With some big games coming up very soon they need to find some more consistency for the whole 90 minutes.
Since his contract situation was sorted out Theo Walcott has being putting in some very good performances. He is back playing in a wide right role and he is having a lot of joy there at the moment. He has shown a level of consistency which he seemed incapable of in previous seasons.
His return of 11 goals and 10 assists at this stage of the season is very good for a player in his position. He seems to have learned when to use his pace to his advantage and the team is benefiting from it. I'm sure Sunderland's left back will be very anxious every time Arsenal come out with the ball at pace on the right.
In team news Arsenal have a few problems in defence with both Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen out. Thankfully new boy Nacho Monreal can slot in at left back as he did so well in his debut last week. His signature is proving to be very important already and the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.
There is also a doubt over Laurent Koscielny but Arsene Wenger is hopeful he will be passed fit to play. He has said his options without Koscielny are either Bacary Sagna or Ignasi Miquel with no mention of Sebastien Squillaci. I like Miquel as a player and I think he could do well, but I have a feeling Sagna might get the nod with Carl Jenkinson coming in at right back if Koscielny misses out.
In midfield Aaron Ramsey has recovered from his knock which means Francis Coquelin is the only player missing. The boss certainly has a lot of options in midfield and I would expect to see some rotation for the FA Cup game with Blackburn next week. I have a feeling the starting three will be Mikael Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere today.
Wilshere showed the world just what a gem Arsenal have with his man of the match performance for England against Brazil on Wednesday night. His recovery from his long injury absence has been gradual, but he looks better with each game. He is the future of Arsenal and with him in the team that future looks bright.
The boss also revealed that Gervinho has been given five days off after his ACN participation ended in the quarter finals. There is no doubt that he is a skillful player, but his ability to use that skill to it's best is another matter altogether. Hopefully he can become the player the boss hoped he would be when he signed him.
That should mean the front three will be his preferred choice of Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. They really seem to be developing a good understanding and the team are certainly reaping the rewards. Between those three players they have 28 goals and 21 assists in the league.
I can see this game being a tight one and it could go either way. Sunderland will do all they can to close Arsenal down at every opportunity and try to stop them playing. That tactic could work against them as the game progresses and they begin to tire.
If Arsenal are finding it tough to make a breakthrough they have to keep trying. They will get chances eventually as long as they keep at their task and then it's a matter of taking them. With three in form strikers hopefully they can do just that.
I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal to keep them in touch with Chelsea, Spurs and Everton. Third place is still not beyond Arsenal with Chelsea faltering just like they did last season. There are 13 games left to play and Arsenal have the players to win enough of them to finish third.
Thankfully the game is live on TV in Ireland and I'll get to see it without all the pesky ads on a stream popping up. After this game there's a full week before Arsenal play again with back to back home cup games. The FA Cup game against Blackburn will be followed by the return of Champions League football with a home game against Bayern Munich.
It should make for a fascinating end to the month and hopefully leave Arsenal a little closer to lifting a trophy too.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.