Sunderland v Arsenal: Defoe relishing lone striker role in survival battle


Jermain Defoe believes his deployment as a lone striker has been key to his recent goalscoring form as Sunderland prepare for Sunday's crunch Premier League clash with Arsenal. 

Former Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat reportedly told ex-England international Defoe he could not play in the position, instead preferring to use him on the left. 

Sam Allardyce, who replaced the Dutchman on Wearside in October,  has opted to play Defoe at the head of a 4-5-1 system in recent games, and the decision paid off as he netted his 16th goal of the season in last weekend's 3-0 victory over fellow relegation candidates Norwich City. 

"He [Advocaat] said 'I don't think you can play up front on your own'. That's why he decided to play me on the left," Defoe told the Sunderland Echo. 

"I don't know, maybe I would have had 25 goals by now if I had been playing up front all the time!

"At the end of the day, it's not about proving anyone wrong, it's just about enjoying playing for this team.

"If we win 1-0 at the weekend and someone else scores, I'll be just as happy."

Sunderland, who sit 18th, can leapfrog Norwich out of the relegation zone with victory on Sunday, but must contend with a wretched run of form against visitors Arsenal that sees them without a win in their last 12 Premier League encounters. 

Jack Rodwell and Jeremain Lens return after missing the Norwich game through illness and injury respectively, and Duncan Watmore will be in contention for a starting place after his scoring cameo from the bench.

Arsenal's 2-0 victory over West Brom in midweek moved them back up to third in the hunt for Champions League qualification, with a four-point cushion over Manchester United in fifth.  

They could welcome long-term absentee Jack Wilshere back to the squad, with the midfielder yet to make an appearance this season after breaking his leg in August. 

Kieran Gibbs missed the victory over West Brom, but manager Arsene Wenger says he too should be available for their trip to the Stadium of Light.

"[He had] a back problem," Wenger said of Gibbs following Thursday's game. "It looks short term. He had a training session today."

Santi Cazorla (Achilles) and Tomas Rosicky (thigh) are back in training but unlikely to feature, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) remains sidelined.

Key Opta Stats:

- Sunderland have won none of their last 12 Premier League matches against Arsenal (L8 D4).
-  The Gunners are unbeaten in their last five Premier League trips to the Stadium of Light, winning the last four in a row (D1).
-  The Black Cats have scored just eight goals in their last 16 Premier League games against the Gunners.
- The Gunners have enjoyed two 3-1 victories against Sunderland already this season, in the league and in the FA Cup. Both games saw Joel Campbell, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud net the Gunners' goals.