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Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0

Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0

With a journey to Sunderland for the second time in seven days, sandwiched between a midweek trip to Milan, so completed what I had worked out to be 3,280 miles of travelling in 7 days to watch Arsenal. Whilst the train took us to Wearside last week and of course the plane flew us to Milan, it was automobile time for the journey to the North East for a 5th Round cup tie. Terry collected me from Streatham Hill at shortly after 9.30am, my clutch of Red Stripe in tow for the long drive up the M1.

Having picked up Young Tim from Archway and cracked open the tinnies (the driver excluded, obviously) there was only one thing left for it. To play the Happy Days theme tune at full volume as we joined the motorway. Conversation began to take a turn for the surreal when we proposed that Football Factory might be transformed into an engaging West End musical, so it was probably just as well the drive was smooth and swift, arriving in Sunderland at shortly before 3.15pm and back to the Grange pub for a few pre match liveners.

Arsene went for a strong line up, with the desperately off form Walcott deservedly dropped for his idle midweek showing. Francis Coquelin came in for the understandably rusty Kieran Gibbs, whilst Gervinho returned. The start was promising; with the visitors looking as though they meant business. After just three minutes, van Persie won a free kick on the edge of the area. Mikel Arteta whipped his effort just past the post with Mignolet sprawling. But plans started to go awry as Francis Coquelin hit the turf with a pulled hamstring. His second hamstring injury in a month. A reshuffle was necessary, with Squillaci moving to centre half and Vermaelen moving to left back.

Understandably, the change was disruptive. On a bumpy surface and in tempestuous conditions, Squillaci looked rusty and misjudged many an aerial duel. Djourou too found the conditions difficult and Sunderland sensed that to their advantage. Sessegnon curled one just after having nicked past Squillaci and Fabianski was down smartly to hold McLean`s cross with Sessegnon lurking. The Gunners were struggling to impose themselves but ought to have taken the lead just after the half hour mark. Van Persie played a clever reverse ball to find the run of Gervinho. The Ivorian took a touch in the right channel before firing a goalward shot which Mignolet plucked out to safety.

Five minutes before half time, defensive uncertainty would be Arsenal`s undoing. Djourou misjudged a through ball and was forced to haul Gardner down on the edge of the Sunderland area. Larsson`s free kick was flicked half clear by Vermaelen, but his interception only found Kieran Richardson, whose keen left footed drive ricocheted in off the unfortunate Squillaci and into the bottom corner. Arsenal were rattled and Colback headed Larsson`s back post cross into the path of McLean, but he could only prod into the side netting. Half time was welcome relief given the head of steam Sunderland had built. Aaron Ramsey gingerly jogged through the half time break with a troublesome ankle. Neither he nor Squillaci would last more than 6 minutes of the half, both hobbling off.

Bitter as it sounds, it`s impossible to ignore the fact that Sunderland`s pitch claimed four Arsenal victims in seven days. Rosicky came on for Ramsey and Squillaci was replaced by Walcott, who assumed the central striker role he`s been wibbling on about playing since time immemorial. Predictably he played it totally ineffectively. Understandable to the extent that Sunderland were playing deep, rendering Theo ineffective. Yet it was also a damning indictment of a one dimensional player. His negotiating hand in contract talks weakens by the week. It was a baffling swap. Walcott was never going to be able to get the space he needs to cause any damage. Arshavin or Benayoun would surely have been much better bets.

The second half rather petered out into a faceless sludge. Arsenal enjoyed 71% possession. I struggle to think of a meaningful opening in the second half. Sunderland sat deep, soaked up pressure. Arsenal knocked the ball around and prayed that van Persie would produce a piece of individual brilliance. You know the script by now, right? The Gunners toiled and attacked. Nobody can doubt their effort. But they posed about as much threat as a water pistol. As Arsenal pushed, Sunderland capitalised on the counter. 29% possession for the home side. Two goals. One goal for every 14.5%. Chamberlain conceded possession in his own half. Sessegnon powered on. Arteta tried and failed to bring him down. Sessegnon knocked the ball right to Larsson. His shot hit the post then cannoned into the net via Chamberlain, who was at least sprinting back to atone for his error. Not one Arsenal player consoled him.

Arsenal tried to muster a vague response but it was all so predictable and they tumbled meekly out of the Cup. The last chance for glory- in the sense of the word that I understand it- for another season. I say that, because of course we will be told that the race for 4th place is the be all and end all for the season. I`m not so convinced. I think this piece by Tim Clark at Arse2Mousesums it up nicely. It`s hard to get excited about finishing 4th. We`re told it will yield increasing revenues. But we don`t use the funds it generates. We`re told we need it to attract players. Yet me conduct a transfer policy befitting of mediocrity. We`re told we need it to keep our best players. But every summer a few more first team players peel away, one by one confirming that they have lost faith in the Arsenal project.

The more I think of it, the more I think the Europa League is the way to go. There`ll be no mass exodus if we don`t qualify for the Champions League because most of the players won`t be that coveted. The captain will go, but he will probably go anyway and I won`t blame him one bit. His shoulders must ache from carrying this lot. One look at a reinvigorated Fabregas- playing carefree football and scoring goals for fun in a team surrounded by class will have van Persie curious I am sure. I believe Andy Dusfrane in Shawshank Redemption said it best. Some birds shouldn`t be caged, their feathers are just too bright.

A run in the Europa League might help the club reassert its purpose. We might stand a chance of winning it. The game is about glory. Right now, we`re making up the numbers. Don`t get me wrong, we`re making up some well heeled numbers, with fine furnishings and all mod cons. But it`s hard not to feel bored with this groundhog day scenario. As supporters, we`re materially wealthy with the club we support. But I feel increasingly emotionally malnourished. Told to love the plush soft furnishings and 40 inch TV screen, when really I yearn to scrape my knees in the garden with my friends. Maybe we`re all spoiled, but supporting Arsenal doesn`t feel like a lot of fun at the moment. I don`t know what the answer to that is. I don`t honestly know if changing the board, the manager, the CEO or the cleaning lady will solve that. All I know is that something has to change. Because every season is becoming increasingly circular and predictable. LD.

21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 5.VERMAELEN, 39.COQUELIN (18.Squillaci '7, 14.Walcott `51), 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA, 16.RAMSEY (7.Rosicky `51), 15.CHAMBERLAIN, 27.GERVINHO, 10.v.PERSIE (c). Unused: 13.Szczesny, 23.Arshavin, 29.Chamakh, 30.Benayoun.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday February 19 2012
Time: 6:37PM


What no Arsenal fans ?
19/02/2012 18:47:00
so bad.
19/02/2012 18:48:00
There's a german saying: (don't know why it's German but it is) Lieber ein Ende mit Schrecken, als ein Schrecken ohne Ende. What it means: Better an end with horror than endless horrors. I don't know how to solve our problems but I do know that maintaining the status quo is no longer a credible option. The fans been sign posted our current situation to the club well in advance.
Professor Calculus
19/02/2012 19:01:00
When wos the last time u see a arsenal wing back run past the winger its fine havin all the ball but no point whens its going backwards i love Arsenal but every season getting very predictable i not callin for Wengers head but he needs giv us fans a lift only 3 players came over and clapped the fans in Milan RVP Henry and the ox the rest just hid away just lik they did on the pitch we need LEADERS 1 or 2 isnt enough but it still the club we love no result is ever going change that AFC for life
Van Persie
19/02/2012 19:04:00
Ow, Fish off. They are just too upset to post. This is an ARSENAL board and no ARSENAL FAN would be ashamed of posting in it. Dont need you morons to come hear and ask stupid questions as if this is a general board. We congratulate, investigate and even critisize our own performances in our board, and we dont need others to come here and tell us what to do or not to do. OK, on the game, it was a very poor performance, and it was a TIMELY kick in the back for us to Really look into spending and rebuilding our Arsenal in the Summer. And i'd still look at Wenger as the man to lead the way. Remember, form is temporary CLASS is permanent. Gooner For life!
19/02/2012 19:05:00
I am convinced there are obstacles behind the scenes that we're not being told about. This was a scenario that we could easily have prevented with some intelligent investment, and there is no way that Arsene is stupid enough to have failed to see that. It seems to me that either we don't have the funds we claim to, or that Arsene, for whatever reason, is having to deal with unreasonable demands by those running the club. Given our wage structure there is no way we can build a sustainable, succesful side via the transfer market. Perhaps the hope was that we could avoid this issue by raising a successful side from the youth ranks whose financial demands would be lower due to the club's family values that Arsene always refers to. If the wage restriction is financially necessary for the future of the club then I applaud the bravery of the project, which I believe failed by only a slim margin - snatching a trophy early on since the stadium move would have been a crucial step in cultivating both a winning mentality and a mental bond to the club. However, I haven't written off the possibility that Arsene's hand is being restricted to boost the incomes of the owners.
19/02/2012 19:11:00
And in response to the above question about our 'wingbacks' not making overlapping runs recently I have to admit that at the time I didn't fully appreciate just how crucial the day we needlessly lost Santos would prove to be. People criticised him for being unreliable, but if you look at the flipside of that characteristic, which in itself is, in my opinion, slightly misguided, he provided with a level of unpredictability that our side has so blatently lacked over the last few months. a
19/02/2012 19:29:00
Agree Rob Santos attacking in a game like today wud hav been a great plus
Van Persie
19/02/2012 19:52:00
AR, It will appear that Arsene is very much his own man and did internalize the whole concept of our youth projects. If he didn't like it, he will be gone at the first sign of discomfort. Such is the intelligence the man possesses that I refrain from assuming there is an "invisible hand" unreasonable demands 'by those running the club'. Wenger would have been credited with the concept and congratulated had we manged to win trophies along the way, so he has to take the flak when it isn't working out (no thanks to money bags from Russia and Abu dhabi).

Few can forget Santos and how he brought some incisiveness to our left side. But for his injury, I would wager that he would have grown into a key part of our offensive play and still retain some measure of solidity in his defending. We need to have some luck with injuries to key players and for extended periods to be able to challenge properly for silverware.
19/02/2012 20:00:00
Willing to lay a sizable bet 'Happy Days' didn't receive a further airing on the return journey.
19/02/2012 20:16:00
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