Poyet relishing Arsenal test

first_img Seven days after succumbing to an horrendous 8-0 defeat at the St Mary’s Stadium – a reverse which the Barclays Premier League’s dubious goals panel has now ruled included three own goals – the Black Cats will line up against Arsenal at the Stadium of Light needing to make a statement. Poyet’s men had lost only one of their previous seven league games, a run which constituted a positive start to the season in the Uruguayan’s eyes, but much of the good work will be undone if they fail to find an antidote to the shock which has engulfed Wearside ever since. Manager Arsene Wenger maintains only a collective defensive effort can propel Arsenal back into the Barclays Premier League title race. The Gunners head to Sunderland, thrashed 8-0 last week at Southampton, boosted by a dramatic midweek victory away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, coming from behind with two goals in the final two minutes. The final result in Brussels, however, masked somewhat a largely average display, with few lessons seemingly learned from recent domestic failings which saw Arsenal need a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 2-2 at home to Hull. Defender Per Mertesacker believes the Gunners must not hide from the fact they ‘lack a few things football wise’ and need to improve overall confidence. Wenger, though, insists it is too easy just to lay all of the blame on a backline which has been hampered by injuries, with centre-back Laurent Koscielny set to be out for at least a month with an Achilles injury. “Until now we have been relatively consistent in our attitude and in our performances, but not efficient enough, neither defensively nor offensively,” said Wenger. “If you look since the start of the season we have only lost two games, to Dortmund and Chelsea, but we didn’t make enough points with our performances. “It is improving by getting everybody to put a bit more effort in to the defensive work, and that starts not only at the back, but up front and in midfield by increasing the level of defensive activity through the team. “We had to reshuffle the defence and (the players) getting used to playing together helps as well. “Last year we had 17 clean sheets and at the moment, we have only had one after eight (Premier League) games, so that is something which we are not on the same level defensively. “We train very hard and the spirit is right, the attitude is here. I believe more it is linked with confidence at the moment, but I cannot fault the attitude. “It (the win at Anderlecht) will help to improve confidence and I am sure that if we focus on our performance, the rest will come naturally.” England forward Theo Walcott is close to a comeback from the serious knee injury which ruled him out of the World Cup. Wenger, though, feels Walcott – who could play for the Under-21s again this weekend – needs a few more “kicks” before returning to the first team. “He has a game that exposes him and he needs to feel completely confident, but he is not far,” said Wenger. “Theo has to get used to contact again. He has been out for nine months, it was a big injury and it takes time to settle, to get used to being kicked again. “Fitness-wise, Theo is there, but to play a part in the game on the contact front I think he needs a little bit more time.” Gus Poyet admits he would love to be pulling on his boots against Arsenal on Saturday as Sunderland attempt to exorcise the ghost of their Southampton nightmare. Press Association It is a challenge the head coach insists his players, far from fearing, should relish. Poyet said: “It’s going to be great on Saturday. I would love to be playing on Saturday. “It’s the perfect game to go in there and put in the biggest effort you can put in on a football pitch and show that whatever happened happened and that’s it, and now we are moving on.” However, Poyet is refusing to view the debacle on the south coast as a reality check to focus minds on the task ahead. He said: “I don’t want reactions because that means you have done something bad. I prefer not to react. “But I do really trust the players, so I am really looking forward to the game. That’s the main thing for me.” Poyet’s options to change his side are limited, particularly at the back, where the addition of former Napoli full-back Anthony Reveillere has at least given him another body with Sebastian Coates and Billy Jones both on the casualty list. Midfielders Emanuele Giaccherini (ankle) and Ricky Alvarez (knee) are also still out. last_img

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