PHIL BARDSLEY has branded it the worst playing surface in the league, but the Sunderland full-back hopes that his team can use the much-maligned Stadium of Light pitch to their advantage when Arsenal visit again on Saturday.

The turf has visibly suffered in the last few weeks after a series of back to back home games against Swansea City, Middlesbrough, and Norwich City, and the surface was heavy and cut up during Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Arsenal.

Black Cats manager Martin O'Neill has spoken of his frustration with the surface, which was relaid over the summer following the Take That and Kings of Leon concerts, failing to live up to the reputation of previous pitches at the Stadium of Light which have won awards for the club's groundsmen.

But Bardsley believes that the pitch could be Sunderland's secret weapon as they welcome The Gunners back to Wearside for the FA Cup fifth round.

He said: "The pitch is not the best at the moment. In fact it's probably the worst in the English league, but that said we are trying to adapt to it and use it to our advantage because we are used to it.

"I can't see too many top teams coming here and playing football on it.

"For the last three or four games, the pitch has been terrible, I think everybody knows that. But we'll adapt to it, get on with it, that's what we're all about. We're professionals and we go about it in the right way and try to play as much football as possible on it."

The surface will be ripped up and relaid again this summer, after Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bruce Springsteen have all performed at the venue, while the club are exploring their options with regard to providing a short-term improvement to the pitch.

Nevertheless, once Saturday's game with Arsenal is concluded, the pitch will have three weeks to recover ahead of the visit of Liverpool on March 10, at which point Bardsley still hopes Sunderland are competing in both league and cup.

O'Neill has fielded a full-strength XI for all three of Sunderland's cup games thus far, making just one substitution during the Black Cats' extra time win over Middlesbrough last Wednesday. But while the manager is the first since Mick McCarthy to guide a team past the fourth round of the FA Cup, Bardsley believes that Roy Keane and Steve Bruce both held the competition in high esteem.

"The mentality was always there under previous managers, we just fell short," explained Bardsley, who, alongside Kieran Richardson are the club's longest-serving players.

"We want to go a long way in this competition, the manager drills that into us, we're hard to beat at the minute, we look organised and hopefully we can keep that run going - it would be great to get to the final of the FA Cup.

"It's all about rallying us and bringing a little bit of belief back. Under the last manager we'd lost a little bit of that, the results didn't exactly breed confidence but now the results are good, everybody's singing from the same hymnsheet and we're all going in the right direction.

"We want to win football matches, that's the philosophy behind it and we want to keep doing that.

Everyone's got to fight for their place when a new manager comes in, everyone's stepped their game up a little bit and we're reaping the rewards of that. Some of the players are playing out of their skin at the minute."

While Sunderland had to draw from their reserves against Arsenal following their exploits at the Riverside three days earlier, The Gunners face a similar poser after facing AC Milan last night.

And with Sunderland having a full week's worth of rest and training for Saturday, Bardsley believes they can take full advantage.

"We had a cup game which went into extra time, so by the time Saturday came around a few of the lads were quite tired and it was a mind over matter situation," said the 26-year-old.

"Arsenal will have the same problem themselves on Saturday having played Milan this week, they'll come back and come straight up here to play us.

"It's difficult when you're travelling that much to focus and come up against a team who are sharp and at the races. We won't give them a minute's rest when they play us. We'll be fresh after a few days off, it's positive here and hopefully we can do the job.

"We've got nothing to fear from Arsenal. We know what they're all about, they have some good players but we kept them quiet last week and it's up to us to get into the next round of the cup.

"We need to stay organised and hard to beat, if we do that there is no reason why we can't take the game to them and get the result we need.

"That said, we can never underestimate a team that contains Van Persie, the craft and guile of Arteta and so on. They are always going to be a threat against us but we don't fear anybody."