GUS POYET believes Sunderland’s trip to Arsenal this weekend is the “perfect” preparation for the Capital One Cup final.
The Wearsiders will move out of the relegation zone for at least 24 hours if they can extend their unbeaten run away from home to seven Premier League games tomorrow.
But head coach Poyet believes the clash against second-placed Arsenal could also boost Sunderland’s hopes at Wembley eight days later.
The Black Cats’ trip to cup final opponents Manchester City fell victim to the weather last week, but Poyet says facing their title rivals, Arsenal, on the road will provide an equally beneficial insight for Wembley.
“This is the dress rehearsal,” said Poyet.
“It’s perfect. Perfect.
“It’s the perfect warm-up game to have before the final.
“Because of the stadium; because of the way Arsenal and Man City play; because of the quality Arsenal have got.
“Now that doesn’t mean that if we win tomorrow we will win next week – or that if we lose, we will lose in the final.
“But I am going to learn a lot. Especially from my players.
“How are they going to play away at the Emirates, on a big pitch, with the ball and without it, because the final is going to be similar.
“We are going to play our game and play to win.
“It’s a great opportunity to see if we can play like that in one of the biggest stadiums against one of the best teams.
“Playing away at the Emirates the week before playing at Wembley is the perfect ‘friendly’ – even though it’s not a friendly!
“It’s going to give us a good opportunity to see if we can play in a certain way against sides like Arsenal or Man City.”
Poyet believes Arsenal’s greater defensive resilience has been key to putting them back in the Premier League title picture this season, with Wenger’s men conceding just once in the top flight at the Emirates since October.
But the former Brighton boss hopes Sunderland can take advantage of Arsenal’s exertions in the Champions League on Wednesday night after the Gunners played almost an hour of the 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich with 10 men.
“Defensively, they are much better this season,” he added.
“After that first game against Aston Villa, they are a very difficult team to score against, especially at the Emirates.
“They have changed their mentality a little bit. When they are one or 2-0 up, they try to close the game out.
“But Arsenal played on Wednesday and they are supposed to be tired, which is a possibility.
“So we need to make sure we play at a high intensity, keep the ball and attack.
“We will try to use everything to our advantage, but we know how difficult it will be.”