Sunderland predicted XI - Arsenal: Two key injuries will force changes to winning team
Sam Allardyce will be forced into at least two changes, with Jermain Defoe missing through injury as well as Sebastian Larsson. (Photo: ESPN)

Sunderland head coach Sam Allardyce will be forced to change his winning team as both Sebastian Larsson and Jermain Defoe are out injured for the game against Arsenal.

Will Allardyce change a defence that has kept two clean sheets in a row?

Costel Pantilimon will obviously keep his place for this one having been one of Sunderland's best players this season even when things looked really bleak. Also, with back to back clean sheets under his belt, the stats now actually reflect his good form this year.

It's worked two weeks in a row so why change it? Allardyce should play 3-5-2 again with a wing back on either side in this game.

There is no debate as to who will play down the left with one of last week's goal-scorers Patrick van Aanholt continuing in a position which really suits the type of player he is.

On the right, however, it's a tougher decision because two weeks ago at Crystal PalaceBilly Jones put in arguably his best performance in a Sunderland shirt. He picked up a booking though in the game which meant he missed out against Stoke City and DeAndre Yedlin got a chance which he took full advantage in another victory.

In my opinion, Jones should come back in because he has been playing too well to be left out in the long-term, and his performance against Palace showed this.

Expect no surprises in the back three though, with Younes Kaboul, Sebatsian Coates and John O'Shea continuing in a strong and experienced unit which has kept some very good young strikers quiet over the past fortnight.

Midfield to see a forced change

Another area which has been really effective in Sunderland's mini run has been the midfield, with it very solid at the back but also a threat going forward.

Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila should certainly continue to patrol in front of their back three, but as for who plays a more free role just in front of them, it's anybody's guess.

Sebastian Larsson has been a real work horse in this role recently but will miss the Emirates trip with a knee injury. My money would be on Jeremain Lens to replace him because of his natural talents and the fact he has a bit of experience on his rivals in the squad, for example Duncan Watmore, who's made a real impact off the bench recently.

Can Duncan Watmore earn a starting berth after last week's game-changing performance? (Photo: Mirror)
Can Duncan Watmore earn a starting berth after last week's game-changing performance? (Photo: Mirror)

However, I think the club will wish to keep him as an impact player for now at least and that his place in the squad will see him take up the role of a substitute once more this week.

Main main Defoe missing

Despite Defoe being out because of his troublesome hamstring, you feel Allardyce will stick with the two up top even against a quality Arsenal team.

Steven Fletcher should keep his place as he is effectively the main man up front now, but, like in midfield, there are many options to see who fills in the gap.

Fabio Borini is the most likely contender despite limited minutes since his permanent return to Wearside and the fact he is yet to score this season. This is not a game, however, where Sunderland will be expected to have a massive goal threat, so the pressure can be taken off him a little as he eases his way back into action.

Meanwhile, Danny Graham is really not in the shape to be a starting player right now, having spent a lot of time with the under-21s recently, whilst the same applies to Ola Toivonen, albeit due to recent injury woes.

Sunderland predicted XI to face Arsenal (3-5-2): Pantilimon; O'Shea, Kaboul, Coates; Jones, Cattermole, M'Vila, Lens, van Aanholt; Fletcher, Borini.

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