I made a point before the game about the team needing pace in attack away to United and bemoaning the absence through injuries of Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal set up to defend and hit United on the break when they could, but with those two injured and Theo Walcott again warming the bench it wasn't the right tactic for the players on the pitch. If the stats are to be believed it was the first time in 10 years Arsenal didn't manage a single shot in the first half of a game.
Walcott eventually came on and it was his cross which got deflected into the United net to earn Arsenal a point. I also made the point that Arsene Wenger was almost sure to pick the exact same side for the sixth game in a row and predictably he did so despite that team losing to Swansea six days earlier. With this game coming so soon after the United game there has to be some rotation in the team and Arsenal certainly have players who can come in and make an impact.
The team chosen against United had been abject for the first hour against Swansea and were even worse for just as long against United. Football is a game played over 90 minutes the last time I checked and Arsenal need to play with pace and commitment to their game from first minute to last to beat any team in the Premier League. There are no easy rides and Arsenal really haven't taken enough points off the rest of the top eight teams this season.
They have put the team's below that position to the sword more often than most teams though and Sunderland come to them in a precarious position at the wrong end of the table. They are three points above the relegation zone with this game and s trip to champions Chelsea to come and they will be guaranteed Premier League football if they take one point from those games. They will stay up even if they lose both of those games if Hull don't win at home to United or if Newcastle lose at home to West Ham.
I don't think Hull have it in them to beat United and I severely doubt that Newcastle will beat West Ham, but a point would put them level with Sunderland and that could put Sunderland behind them if Arsenal and Chelsea put a few goals past them. I can't see Sunderland coming to Arsenal and having a go and I would be very surprised if they didn't try to park the bus like Chelsea and Swansea in Arsenal's last two home games. It had been a long time since Arsenal failed to score in two home games in a row, but both of those teams shut them out and Sunderland will be more than happy to do the same.
They won't want to go into the final game of the season still involved in the relegation battle and they have put up some good performances in recent weeks to make themselves favourites to stay up. They have only won three of their 17 away games, but they have managed to draw more away games than any other team and their defensive record away from home is quite good with the exception of the eight goals Southampton put past them. They have taken eight points from their last four games which has included wins at home to Southampton and away to Everton and they will make life as hard as they can for Arsenal.
As I said already there needs to be some rotation for the good of the squad and also because the players played only three days ago and play again in four days. None of the injured players will be returning from injury which means it's more than likely going to be the same squad which was used against United. There are plenty of those players who were on the bench on Sunday who could quite easily fit into the team and I expect to see a few of them get a run out.
I would be very surprised if Walcott and Jack Wilshere weren't in the starting team and I think there has to be room for Gabriel Paulista and Kieran Gibbs too. Which players would miss out would be another matter, but Gibbs would of course come in for Nacho Monreal and I would have said Gabriel would replace Per Mertesacker, but Laurent Koscielny is a bit of a doubt and it might not be a bad idea to rest him with the FA Cup final only 10 days away.
If Walcott comes in it will mean Aaron Ramsey won't play on the right as I can't see Walcott being deployed in a central role. I would have Ramsey alongside Francis Coquelin in central midfield which would see Santi Cazorla miss out. Cazorla has had a great season, but it's hardly fair to Ramsey to continually play him out of position and he deserves a chance to play in his favoured position.
If Ramsey plays centrally it might mean Wilshere will miss out unless the boss decides to play them alongside each other. Coquelin has been fantastic since getting into the team as he does the defensive work in midfield which others don't do, but the inclusion of Wilshere and Ramsey would certainly offer more attacking options. It could be a risk to play them both together, but against a team struggling at the wrong end of the table it might be one he chooses to take.
Of course Wilshere could push further forward or so could Ramsey if either Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez were to be given some much needed rest. The club played an awful lot of money for those two players though and I expect they will play as they tend to do when they're fit. A bit of a shake up to the team wouldn't go astray and I hope those four players will get a chance. I don't think the team will suffer with them in it and the bench would have a very strong look to it too.
There's still the slight matter of third place to play for as Arsenal need a point to confirm direct qualification for the group stages of next season's Champions League. There's even the very slight possibility of Arsenal finishing second if Southampton can do them a favour by winning at City on Sunday and Arsenal can win their last two games. I don't see it happening myself, but Southampton can still finish fifth with a win if Liverpool fail to win at Stoke and Spurs don't win at Everton.
If Arsenal are going to open up Sunderland they need to get to the task a lot earlier than they have done in recent games and they need to use the full width of the pitch as much as possible. I know it's not easy with some of the injured players the more likely ones to play in those positions, but they cannot approach the game with the same lack of urgency which has been all too evident recently. I think a few fresh faces could be the remedy to that problem and I hope to see the players put Sunderland under real pressure from the off.
It would be a shame if the league campaign was to fizzle out after the players fought so hard to get themselves in such a good position since the turn of the year. A win would at least give them some hope of finishing second and give City something to think about when they play Southampton on Sunday. Who knows what could happen if Arsenal were to win their last two games and the only way we will see what it could mean is if they start by beating Sunderland.
I think they will get the win and I hope they put up a performance that shows the players still want to try to finish second as well as getting a place in the cup final team. That final is getting very close now and the chance to retain the trophy and become the team who has won the cup the most times is something to look forward to. Hopefully the team will go into it on the back of two home wins and knowing they have given their all to finish as high as possible in the table.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.