Following a run of three successive league wins, Arsenal look to take one step closer to the final of the EFL Cup on Tuesday as they host Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium.
The teams’ quarter-final tie also sees the visitors arrive in fine form, having gone seven games unbeaten in League One, though their recent cup record leaves a lot to be desired.
After successive defeats to open December, a rejuvenated Arsenal have gone into overdrive during the fortnight since – winning a quickfire trio of Premier League fixtures by an aggregate score of 9-1.
Last Wednesday’s London derby win over West Ham United lifted the Gunners into the top four of the league table for the first time since October 2020, and they then followed that up with a convincing victory over Leeds United at the weekend.
Only penalty area profligacy prevented Mikel Arteta’s men from replicating their opponents’ previous 7-0 defeat as they ran riot in the first half at Elland Road, but somehow only ended up with a 4-1 scoreline at the final whistle.
Arsenal’s previous win over Marcelo Bielsa’s struggling side had come less than two months ago when they prevailed at the Emirates in the EFL Cup last 16. Indeed, the North London club also cruised through their opening two ties in the competition, comfortably beating both West Brom and Wimbledon without conceding a goal.
In all, Arsenal’s record stands at a tally of 11 goals scored without reply, despite fielding a shadow side on all three occasions, so they will hope such momentum can help them take the final few steps to League Cup glory for the first time since 1993.
Having lifted the trophy just twice in their long and glorious history – compared to a record 14 FA Cup triumphs – the Gunners will certainly want to capitalise on being drawn against the only lower league opposition remaining in this year’s edition.
Despite avoiding top-flight opponents until this stage, Sunderland have taken a far more laborious route to the final eight than their capital counterparts, and it took a penalty shootout in the previous round to keep their hopes alive.
Following a goalless draw at Championship side QPR, the Black Cats used up a significant slice of their due luck by prospering in the spot-kick lottery – earning them a quarter-final berth, after previous wins over Port Vale, Blackpool and Wigan.
Since, though, their cup fortunes have noticeably nosedived, as successive losses in the EFL Trophy sandwiched a premature FA Cup exit at the hands of Mansfield Town.
Nevertheless, Sunderland’s quest for a return to the second tier this season under Lee Johnson has progressed relatively well, and they currently sit third in League One after a 1-1 draw away at Ipswich on Saturday, secured thanks to Nathan Broadhead’s second-half equaliser.
They therefore remain in contention for automatic promotion following a series of near misses in the recent past, as only four points separate them from league leaders Rotherham just ahead of the halfway stage.
Despite the size of their task in upsetting the odds this week, Johnson’s men are not required to play League One football again until December 27, so they can go all guns blazing at the Emirates before a brief Christmas break.
Arsenal EFL Cup form:
Arsenal form (all competitions):
Sunderland EFL Cup form:
Sunderland form (all competitions):
We say: Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland
Changing the bulk of their side has not caused Arsenal’s young squad any problems so far in the EFL Cup as they have progressed serenely with a second-string XI which still offers pace and guile.
While Sunderland are set to put up strong resistance, and are likely to score themselves, the weight of attacking talent available to Mikel Arteta should ensure that the Gunners march on to the semi-finals.