This is a much more of an important game than I thought it would be. Two defeats on the bounce is bad enough, but three losses in a row would be awful in terms of what it could do to our morale.
We had managed to bounce back from our defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea, but when we slipped up against Stoke, only the most optimistic of Spurs fans would have fancied us to beat Arsenal.
Sunderland at home is a much more winnable game, but it still promises to be tough. Not least because the Sunderland side will feature ex-Tottenham players such as Steed Malbranque, Andy Reid, Frazier Campbell and of course Darren Bent, who nobody would be surprised to see score on Saturday.
All have something to prove against us. In their midfield, Steed is the sort of committed and skillful player that would still be an asset to our squad and Andy Reid now seems to be playing the most consistent football of his career under Steve Bruce.
Unless Bruce decides to pack his midfield, then Frazier Campbell could start in the absence of the suspended Kenwyne Jones and he will be looking to prove that we should have given him more opportunities whilst at White Hart Lane.
Finally, there is Darren Bent. He cost a fortune and we knew that he could score goals. Unfortunately he contributed very little else to the team and just didn’t fit in with the way we played. Sunderland’s tactics are perfect for him though and I for one am relieved that Jones is suspended, as he and Bent make for a deadly duo.
So they will be full of fight and endeavour, but where we can dominate this game is in midfield. Cattermole is injured and Cana suspended, so they will leave the defensive duties to the teenage rookie Jordan Hernderson, as part of a five man midfield that will also include Malbranque, Reid, Richardson and Zenden.
Now the last time I checked all of those last four were left wingers, so if we can’t win a midfield fight against them, then we might as well pack up. After Huddlestone’s listless display in the North London derby, it will be interesting to see if Harry retains him or plays the more energetic Jenas alongside Palacios.
There are several potential conundrums in regards to our lineup. Harry does not just have to make a decision regarding the centre of the midfield, but also needs to make one in regards to the flanks. With Modric and Lennon injured, Bentley and Kranjcar seems like a combination that will lack pace. We could bring in Bale, but there’s also the option of playing him at left back to stir up Assou Ekotto.
With Corluka injured it looks as if Hutton will start in defence, with Naughton on the bench. Having seen those two combine in pre-season, I’d love to see them together again in tandem down the right, at some point tomorrow.
At least we know where we are in the centre of defence… well, kind of. King and Woodgate will start if fit, but of course with those two it’s a big ‘if’. Even without the injured Bassong, we still have decent cover in the shape of Dawson, so there’s not too much to worry about.
Sure to get a heroes welcome, despite not truly deserving it after having got himself banned, will be the returning Jermain Defoe. The Keane/Crouch combo hasn’t gelled and I’m looking forward to seeing the tenacity that Defoe brings, back in our front line.
Things have got to the stage now, where I would be staggered if Defoe didn’t start alongside Keane, despite the fact that our captain doesn’t really deserve to keep his place in the team over Crouch.
In other circumstances we might think this is a tough fixture and not be too perturbed if it ended as a draw. On this occasion, I’m afraid that this just won’t cut it. We HAVE to win. I’m saying 2-1.