Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has dismissed suggestions that Sunderland will have their minds on next weekend’s Capital One Cup final when they visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Gus Poyet’s side face Manchester City in the showpiece event at Wembley on March 2, having knocked out Manchester United in the previous round.
However, Wenger is convinced that the Black Cats, who sit 18th in the Premier League table, will not allow their focus to slip as they continue their fight against relegation.
“Sunderland play for survival,” Wenger said. “They have a cup final coming and they will want to show they can play well so it could go both ways. That is not a reason for us to expect weakness from Sunderland. It can as well galvanise them and give them some special resources.
“Sunderland play quite well [in recent weeks], I must say. Poyet slowly has made an impact in their style of play and confidence level. The recent results show he has had a positive impact. It looks to me they are on a trend that is upwards.
“It is amazing in this Premier League that all the teams you thought a few weeks ago had no chance, [Crystal] Palace and Sunderland, are out of the relegation zone. It shows how tight it all is.”
Wenger went on to heap praise on his former goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who moved to Sunderland last summer.
“I kept him here after he had a trial at 16,” Wenger said. “That he makes a career I am extremely happy for him. I had three young keepers here in Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and Mannone and it was a nice problem. All three were top, top quality.
“I let Mannone go because he deserved to play somewhere and he has done well. I am pleased for him. I always knew he was a top keeper.”
Wenger has confirmed he will consider a return to first-team action against Sunderland for Olivier Giroud, after the striker was left out in favour of youngster Yaya Sanogo for the games against Liverpool and Bayern Munich.
Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, will return to the Gunners squad from suspension, but Kieran Gibbs is out after he limped off injured during the Bayern defeat on Wednesday.