October 23, 2014

With five matches to play in the Premier League season, two teams with plenty to play for at opposite ends of the table meet Sunday when relegation-threatened Sunderland welcome Arsenal to the Stadium of Light.

The late-season push to avoid the drop is seemingly becoming a rite of passage for Sunderland (7-9-17), who once again find themselves battling for survival. They enter this match in 18th place with 30 points, one adrift of safety.

The northeast club has seen their fair share of managers come and go since the 2012-13 season as Paolo Di Canio was replaced by Gus Poyet, who was replaced by Dick Advocaat, who was replaced by current boss Sam Allardyce.

After struggling through their most recent six-match winless run, the Black Cats claimed what could turn out to be their most significant result of the season last weekend when they ran rampant in a 3-0 destruction at Norwich City.

Striker Fabio Borini, the former Liverpool man, applauded his teammates for their most flattering scoreline of the season since a 3-0 romp of archrivals Newcastle United on Oct. 25 to secure three huge points.

"We managed the pressure well and for the second we recovered the ball through good pressing from (Jan) Kirchhoff, and then at three on three we played it very well," Borini said. "If you put a ball like that into the box you know exactly what Jermain (Defoe) can do.

"The fans were good and as always you can't say any more about them because it's impossible to have better fans than we have. It was important to win and the goal difference is also very important because it gives us confidence and little bit of room to work with. We now have a week to prepare for Arsenal."

While the points are a big help, the six-goal swing in the scoreline could loom large since Sunderland still has a match in hand on both Norwich City and Newcastle. The Black Cats sport a minus-18 differential, significantly better than the Canaries (minus-25) and the Magpies (minus-26).

They now are trying to build on the momentum from this victory, and Allardyce is confident his charges will respond.

"My fear on Saturday was would be able to handle the pressure," the manager said. "We put enormous pressure on ourselves by not winning the games we should have done, but we handled that pressure superbly and won 3-0. Hopefully now the pressure will be released a little bit for when we come to play Arsenal, and we will give them one hell of game. It's going to be a tough one as we know, but we need to try and take some points from it and move forward."

At the top end of the table, Arsenal (18-9-7) are battling to keep their grip on third place following Thursday's 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates which extended their unbeaten streak in league play to six matches.

Alexis Sanchez's first-half brace allowed the Gunners to cruise to three points over the Baggies, and for one match at least, silenced the grousing from a fan base upset over the club's lack of a title push in an upside-down season during which fellow perennial contenders also fell by the wayside.

"We played with a real purpose from the off and we created opportunities," midfielder Aaron Ramsey told Arsenal Player. "We managed to take a couple of them and I thought we deserved it today.

"That is perhaps where we have been lacking in the last couple of games. We definitely proved what we could do tonight and if we play like that all the time there is no reason why we can't win every game."

Arsenal will be trying to do the double over Sunderland for the sixth time in club history and second time in three seasons. They beat Sunderland 3-1 at the Emirates in December as Joel Campbell and Ramsey scored goals and Olivier Giroud canceled out his marker with an own goal.

The Gunners also dumped Sunderland out of the FA Cup with the same scoreline in the third round at the Emirates in January. Jermain Lens had Sunderland ahead after 17 minutes, but goals from Campbell, Ramsey, Giroud won the match for Arsenal.

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