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Arsenal-Sunderland Preview


STATS Writer

(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Arsenal's situation has gone from dire to promising in just a week, but manager Arsene Wenger wants to see more consistency.

Martin O'Neill is getting plenty of that from surging Sunderland.

The Gunners look to build on by far their best performance of the season when they try to continue their dominance of the Black Cats on Saturday at Stadium of Light.

Going four league games without a win had Arsenal (12-4-8) seemingly in a crisis, while putting Wenger's managerial capabilities under massive scrutiny. That's been tempered greatly by last Saturday's 7-1 demolition job against relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers.

Suddenly, the Gunners are gaining confidence that they can finish in the top four and qualify for Champions League. They're sixth in the Premier League, two points back of fifth-place Newcastle and three behind Chelsea for fourth.

"We recently had an unsuccessful spell so this is something we can build on," Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky told the team's official website. "We can be happy after this game but the most important thing is to carry a performance like that and fight for a Champions League spot. It was a game when almost everything went in and it's good for confidence.

"Keep working and produce another performance like Saturday's."

Wenger wants to see more of that, and putting together another strong effort could see increased confidence heading into Wednesday's visit to Milan for the Champions League Round of 16.

"We know that with the position we are in we need an exceptional consistency, so that is the challenge we have in front of us at Sunderland," he said.

Arsenal tend to have little trouble with Sunderland, going 9-6-1 after beating them 2-1 in London behind a brace from Robin van Persie on Oct. 16, 2011.

Van Persie can't be faulted for Arsenal's position in the table since he leads the Premier League with 22 goals. He had a hat trick while assisting on two other goals last weekend.

The Dutch forward has five goals in six meetings with the Black Cats, but none in two visits to Stadium of Light.

While Wenger is seeking consistency out of Sunderland, that's just what O'Neill is getting out of Sunderland.

They're 9-2-3 in all competitions since O'Neill was named managed in early December, going unbeaten in five straight while winning three in a row. Sunderland last enjoyed a four-match winning streak from Nov. 18-Dec. 9, 2000.

The Black Cats' recent run of success continued when Stephane Sessegnon scored with seven minutes left in extra time in Wednesday's 2-1 win over Championship side Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. That result set up a fifth-round match with Arsenal on Feb. 18 in Sunderland.

"The main thing is we're through to the next round," O'Neill told the team's official website. "You could say we made hard work of the game, however, we did play very well."

Sunderland is also having success in league play, where they're eighth in the table after Sessegnon set up James McClean for the lone goal in a 1-0 victory at Stoke City last Saturday. Sessegnon is thriving under O'Neill, scoring five goals with four assists in 11 matches after scoring twice in the previous 17.

Updated February 9, 2012

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