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Arsenal set sights on third place in Premier League as Sunderland hunt lifeline

By Jim van Wijk

Published 20/05/2015

Tricky task: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger expects Sunderland to be tough opponents as they chase the point needed for safety
Tricky task: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger expects Sunderland to be tough opponents as they chase the point needed for safety

Arsenal responded to last week's disappointing home defeat to Swansea by earning a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday, keeping them two points ahead of Manchester United, and they can secure third place by beating Sunderland at the Emirates.

"We would like to finish first, but that is mathematically impossible so we need to finish as well as we can," said Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, who will check on the fitness of Laurent Koscielny following a bout of flu.

"We have the possibility of taking six points, but it will not be enough (for second place) if Manchester City win their last game against Southampton.

"How much chance do we have? I don't know. The only chance we have is to win our games."

Sunderland are battling at the other end of the table, with the goalless draw against Leicester edging Dick Advocaat's side closer to staying up.

"Sunderland are in search of a point to be safe, so I expect them to be well organised defensively and to be sound at the back, and to try to use all the counter-attacks they can, all the set-pieces they have, to score goals," said Wenger.

"We have to put a high rhythm into this game and play with a high level of energy to win."

Arsenal will again be without forward Danny Welbeck (knee) and midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring).

Both players face a race against time to be fit for the FA Cup final against Aston Villa on Saturday week.

"They all have to get fit very quickly now because there is not a long way to go (to the cup final)," Wenger said.

Meanwhile, Adam Johnson could have a significant role to play tonight.

The Black Cats head for the Emirates a little more than 48 hours after the England international appeared before magistrates to face three charges of sexual activity with a girl under 16 and one of grooming.

Johnson, whose solicitor indicated at Peterlee Magistrates' Court that the player would deny all the charges, is in the squad for the clash with the Gunners.

And having seen the impact the 27-year-old made as a substitute against Leicester at the weekend, Advocaat has hinted that the former Middlesbrough and Manchester City winger could start.

Advocaat said: "He's in the squad and when you are in the squad there's always a chance you will start.

"This team works so hard and you have to be fair to all of them, but Adam is a player who can do something different for us. His style is different from others, and you saw that when he came on against Leicester."

Johnson is yet to be named in the starting line-up by Advocaat, who will take charge of his eighth and penultimate - for the time being, at least - game in north London, but has come off the bench in six of the previous seven.

The Dutchman remains coy over his future.

He said: "We will see. Next week, I will take the decision."

Sunderland face a difficult conclusion to yet another testing campaign with a visit on Sunday to champions Chelsea.

Premier League: Arenal v Sunderland, Emirates Stadium, 7.45 pm (Sky)

Belfast Telegraph

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