Sunderland 2-0 Arsenal: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:31 19/02/12 By Simon Bird
Defiant Arsene Wenger angrily disputes the reasons being cited for a likely seventh straight trophyless season at Arsenal.
After another damaging defeat brought questions about his future, and his appetite to rebuild, Wenger adopted the old “show us your medals” approach to his inquisitors and critics.
“I get many lessons from many people who have managed zero clubs, zero games, zero Champions League games,” he said.
“We have played 15 years at the top level, and in the top four. It is remarkable consistency and one day when you manage a club, you will see it’s not easy.” So let’s preface every question, every doubt, about Arsenal and Wenger’s current plight with the context the Frenchman demands.
With the greatest of respect to the three Premier League titles, four runner-up spots, four FA Cups, and five losing major finals, including one in the Champions League, that Wenger’s teams have amassed, Arsenal and his own reputation are in a spot of bother.
The absence of injured stars Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby figure high on Wenger’s own mitigation. But we could mention the £57million sitting in the bank – unspent proceeds from the reluctant sale of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer.
How about the glaring lack of leadership and on-field direction that led TV pundit and ex-foe Roy Keane to say this was the worst Arsenal side he’d ever seen? “A harsh verdict,” Wenger said.
The Arsenal boss himself pointed to his side’s three consecutive away games and the spirit-sapping defeat at Milan in midweek.
We could wonder why Arsenal’s play, which used to light up grounds with a slickness, pace and panache that elevated them from the Premier League also-rans, has now declined to the level of ordinary.
Of course, still good on the ball, keeping possession, but strangely disjointed and lacking punch.
could argue the merits of Wenger’s ‘jam tomorrow’ policy of being
frugal in the transfer market, instead developing youngsters to be
at some still undefined date in
We could argue also about what chance Arsenal will have of spending that £57m, and beating Manchester City and Manchester United to the best players, now that everyone assumes they again won’t win a trophy.
And about their chances of keeping their best player Robin van Persie (left) in the summer, even if, as is reported, they will bust their salary cap to do so.
But sometimes winning a football match comes down to simple differences. And in one sentence, Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole put his finger on the primary reason behind this result.
“I thought we wanted it more than they did,” said the Wearside skipper. “If you look at the game, our spirit came shining through.”
He was right. Sunderland were tenacious, well organised, passionate, a team ethic shining through as they chased, pressed, and broke forward with purpose.
They were everything Arsenal were not. They squeezed the creativity out of the Gunners. They hunted down their demoralised opponents in packs, denying them time and space to be creative.
The debate about where Arsenal go from here is the pressing issue that Sunderland’s victory provoked, bringing the focus onto their deficiencies. But that should not distract from what was a magnificent tactical and energetic performance Martin O’Neill extracted from his players as his remarkable turnaround at the Stadium of Light continues.
Two months ago, Sunderland were one game from dropping into the relegation zone. Now they’re one game from a Wembley semi-final, and a club on the up.
Whereas even the Arsenal faithful seem to fear, with good reason, that their club have already slipped from a lofty perch.
Sunderland took the initiative early on when Kieron Richardson fired in from the edge of the box.
Their lead was doubled when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fumbled into his own net after winger Sebastian Larsson hit the post. The last word on this latest Arsenal tale of woe should go to rival boss O’Neill.
He added the kind of perspective that nags at anyone contemplating the north London side’s future.
“I don’t pretend to know him, but what Wenger has achieved has been fantastic,” he said. “When he chooses to leave he will be a major loss to them. A major loss.
“You are talking about a very intelligent man. His judgment and record stands the highest scrutiny. He has had a disappointing week and expectations have been high.
“But I always say eventually you win a game or two and the pressure passes on to the next manager.
“My genuine view is that he is one of the greatest managers. As time goes on, people forget what he has done. He was vying with Sir Alex Ferguson every year for the title not so long ago.
“He will come again.”