Arsenal will be looking to recover from the massacre they received at AC Milan, after being blown away 4-0 on Wednesday night in the first leg of the Last 16 of the Champions League.
Sunderland, meanwhile, haven't been in action since they faced the gunners last weekend in the Premier League. Arsenal did win it on the day, with late strikes from Aaron Ramsey and Thierry Henry gifting them a 2-1 victory. That win, combined with October's 2-1 triumph over the black cats, gave Arsenal their first Premier League double over Sunderland since the 2007/2008 season, when Arsenal won 3-2 at home and 1-0 away.
The gunners will now be looking for a third victory this season over Sunderland, which will take them into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.
This, however, is a completely different game with a completely different mindset for both teams. Last Saturday, Martin O'Neill's Sunderland seemed to settle for a draw from the moment the first whistle was blown, and understandably so. They had an extremely tiring Wednesday night FA Cup derby match versus Middlesbrough that went into extra time, and named virtually the same XI that featured in that game.
On the other hand, Arsene Wenger's men came into that game looking to secure all points in their race to fourth place. Wenger named his strongest side (similar to the one on Wednesday night), but Arsenal were still not good enough to unlock a stubborn Sunderland defense until very late in the game.
Both teams come into Saturday looking for different results than a week ago. Sunderland will be keen not to draw, as they would not want a replay at the Emirates Stadium, where Arsenal have already beaten them this season. And while Arsene Wenger's men would also like to advance to the next round without having to play an additional game, settling for a rematch at the Emirates is by no means a disaster. Expect Sunderland to be much more direct than they were a week ago, with Arsenal likely playing the same style of patient passing and carving out opportunities
Arsenal Short on Centre-Backs
Arsenal were fortunate to get the points, but they were also unfortunate to go 1-0 down after Mertesacker injured himself with no pressure on him. The big German defender will miss at least a month after undergoing surgery on what seems to be an ankle ligament problem. Arsenal will be without him for Saturday, as well as centre-half Laurent Koscielny who came off injured against AC Milan, but claimed his time on the sidelines is "a matter of days". That leaves Wenger very limited in central defense, with Thomas Vermaelen, John Djourou, Sebastien Squillaci, and youngster Ignasi Miquel the only options. Vermaelen and Djourou have both been forced recently to full-back positions, while Miquel and Squillaci have rarely featured for the gunners this season.
For Sunderland, there is still no Arsenal-loanee Nicklas Bendtner, who recently suffered a facial injury. The black cats are also missing centre-half Wes Brown and midfielder Lee Cattermole. It is likely they will name the same back-four that has been very consistent for them lately, which consists of Phil Bardsley, John O'Shea, Michael Turner, and Kevin Richardson.
Tactics and Key Players
Stephane Sessengon will once again be vital to Sunderland's attack, while James McClean will look to unlock the Arsenal defense for a second time within a week and continue his inspiring form under new manager Martin O'Neil which has seen him score four times since the manager's appointment in December. Arsenal will have to rely on their wingers to produce something special, especially if Robin van Persie doesn't start. Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Gervinho can be key to Arsenal's game if they feature. Yossi Benayoun will also be looking to gain a place in the starting XI after recently falling out of favor, and the Israeli international can certainly produce a piece of magic when needed most.
One thing is for sure though; there won't be a certain Thierry Henry to rescue the gunners this time. The Frenchman is headed back to New York Red Bulls as they start their pre-season preparations in America. Arsenal will need to do better than last Saturday if they want to go on to the next round.
The FA Cup now appears to be the only legitimate way to end an ongoing trophy drought this season, and Wenger will likely name his strongest side. However, he could rest captain Robin van Persie, with Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho coming back to the attack after the African Cup of Nations.
Martin O'Neil will have to choose between Connor Wickham, Fraizer Campbell, and Dong-Wong Ji in Sunderland's attack. In the middle of the park, Wenger will have to decide whether or not to rest Alex Song and Mikel Arteta, who have both featured in many games recently. Yossi Benayoun and Francis Coquelin, who both traveled to Milan but didn't feature, could come into the side. The Frenchman will also have to choose between Rosicky and Ramsey in the attacking midfield role and whether to hand Theo Walcott, who was extremely disappointing versus Milan, another start. Sunderland are predicted to play the same midfield four who faced the gunners last time out.
History and Statistics
If the whole of the Premier League season took place in January, Sunderland would be second place, while Arsenal would be nineteenth.
Robin van Persie has more goals this season than Sunderland's seven top-goal scorers combined.
Arsenal have opened the scoring first more than any other Premier League team this season, while Sunderland have only come back to win from a losing position once this whole season.
Saturday's meeting will be the first FA Cup match between the two sides since the 1996/1997 season, when Arsenal defeated Sunderland 2-0 away from home, after a 1-1 tie at Highbury resulted in a replay.
The last time Sunderland knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup was in the 1972/1973 season.
Mr. Howard Webb will be in charge of Saturday's clash between Sunderland and Arsenal at the Stadium of Light. He was also in charge when Arsenal defeated Sunderland in October at the Emirates Stadium. In fact, in the past thirteen Arsenal games in which Webb has been the referee, the gunners have only lost twice, both times to Manchester United.
Referee Webb has a tendency of giving out yellow cards, which players such as Robin van Persie, Kieran Richardson, and John O'Shea, who are all one yellow card short of a domestic suspension, will have to watch out for. Webb has also given a few controversial penalties lately, notably the second penalty in the Chelsea vs. Manchester United game, in which Danny Welbeck seemed to dive.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Turner, Richardson; Larsson, Colback, Gardner, McClean; Sessengon, Campbell.
Arsenal: Fabianski; Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Arteta, Ramsey; Chamberlain, van Persie, Gervinho.