Cup hopefuls Sunderland switch focus to their fight for Premier League safety on Saturday and the chance to gain a historic win at Arsenal.
Gus Poyet’s men slipped back into the relegation zone on goal difference last week when their match at Manchester City was postponed due to inclement weather, yet a superb revival has seen the north-east club lose just two of their last 16 matches in all competitions.
Sunderland face City in the League Cup final on March 2 and are also into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after beating Southampton on Saturday.
However, a 2-0 home defeat to Hull City in Sunderland’s most recent Premier League clash served as a stark reminder of the task they face in a congested battle for survival.
And that challenge is unlikely to get any easier against title-chasing Arsenal, who Sunderland have not beaten away from home since 1983.
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood is unavailable for the trip to the Emirates Stadium due to a shoulder injury, while defender Carlos Cuellar has been given extra time to recover from a hip problem.
Wes Brown serves the final game of a two-match ban, but Poyet could be handed a boost by the return of Steven Fletcher, who is hoping to make his return from an Achilles injury.
Arsenal have a host of key players out of action, with defender Thomas Vermaelen (calf) and midfielders Kim Kallstrom (back) and Aaron Ramsey (thigh) all unavailable.
Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby (both knee) are long-term absentees and could be joined on the sidelines by defender Kieran Gibbs after he came off during Wednesday’s 2-0 UEFA Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich with a hamstring injury. Although defeat to Bayern severely dented Arsenal’s bid to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, Arsene Wenger’s side are still very much in contention for a first Premier League title in 10 years.
Arsenal are just a point behind leaders Chelsea and defender Per Mertesacker is confident they can recover from their European disappointment. “Our team has great spirit and will come back from this (the defeat to Bayern),” Mertesacker told Arsenal’s official website. “We have to switch on quickly again on Saturday in an important game in the Premier League and get the three points.”
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