Sunderland: Alexis Saves The Day But Empty Seats Tell Their Own Story

Arsenal 2 – 0 Sunderland

For seventy minutes, it was another one of those nights. The visiting goalkeeper produced the performance of his life and when he was beaten, the woodwork was there to save him.

And then it happened. The much-maligned striker pops up nit just once but twice to score. Alexis, castigated by the manager and persistently by the club’s attack dogs, once again saved Wenger’s bacon. Not that he cared; everyone’s been sniffy in the past about the top four and he doesn’t understand why it’s suddenly a big issue. The spirit of Clouseau lives on, and more power to his elbow for that.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad performance. Alexis pounced for two ‘fox in the box’ goals, that almost had me feeling sympathy for Pickford. “Sign him up!” went the cry; “Aah, oui; mais non!” Arsène chortled afterwards. We aren’t in the market for a ‘keeper and he proceeded to name the reasons why not. In many people’s eyes – mine included – those are the reasons why we should be signing a new goalkeeper this summer, be it Pickford or Butland.

Petr Cech, in fairness, did the usual; important saves to keep us in the game. Jermaine Defoe, were he 5 – 7 years younger, would be an ideal signing now. An intelligent striker, whose runs cause problems. And quick; the sort of player we could benefit from. Time is not on his side but Cech made a couple of smart saves from him.

Pass and Move – Getting The Basics Right

At the back, Rob Holding pushed his name forward as a fixture in the team with another assured performance. What marks him out is his distribution and a willingness to run with the ball but without risk. Comfortable in possession, he doesn’t look to offload a pass at the first opportunity. He should have scored as well. Chip in with 3 or 4 league goals each season and international recognition beckons; it ought to anyway. He looks a better player than John Stones.

The poverty of Sunderland’s play underlines their plight. Moyes imagination sent them out mirroring our 3-4-2-1 but it failed to stifle Arsenal. Roger East, with a far better view than Saturday’s Prima Donna, spotted Giroud’s hand deflecting Alexis’ shot into the net. Giroud, in the side for his aerial ability among other attributes, was protecting his head from the ball. The deflection achieved begged the question why not glance a header goalward, or at least try?

No surprise when later on, he made way for Danny Welbeck who suffered the same frustrations thanks to Pickford’s ability. Having been held at fault for recently, the young England international was impressive in not just saving shot after shot, but turning the ball to safety. Decision-making may be an area to work on but staying at Sunderland for another season unless he is going to be first-choice elsewhere, might be his best bet.

Protest and Survive

On and off the pitch, there was a pre-season friendly feel about the place. As much as Arsène and others portray it as ‘Tuesday night against poor opponents’ syndrome, the protests had an impact. An unquantifiable one but the general consensus was that the Emirates has never been less empty for a competitive game. A suggestion that half the seats were unfilled in protest sounded more or less right but apathy is as much Arsenal’s enemy as dissent.

The club takes a hit on night’s like that. Ancillary sales – programmes, merchandise, and sustenance – all form a part of matchday income and it doesn’t take long for the total to reach six-figures. Not to worry, Arsène told us Sunday’s sold out so it’s just a blip.

Wenger rued the defeats at Everton and City, and later mourned those at West Brom and Palace. He could have chosen draws to lament or defeats in London derbies; the season provided rich pickings for that. The league campaign ends on Sunday with an unlikely top four place at stake. He is reliant upon Liverpool slipping and continuing their dismal home form, to remain in the Champions League.

For a man who found participation such a virtue, that disappointment must bite hard. He believes he has the wherewithal to rectify that. On last night’s evidence, a significant number don’t share that confidence.

Finally, there is a new playlist on Dad’s Jukebox: Jukebox Classics: #3 The Songs Which Influenced Arctic Monkeys is as eclectic mix as could be found; it’s here while the Record of the Week – Paul Weller’s A Kind Revolution – is found here.

’til Tomorrow.

52 thoughts on “Sunderland: Alexis Saves The Day But Empty Seats Tell Their Own Story

  1. Morning Yogi,

    Did you hear Wenger’s big announcement last night? It’s a new era, yee-haar! Life is good, life is good.

    No, not his new two year contract, which is obviously filed under “Too difficult to officially announce just yet”. The big news, delicately announced, is that we no longer strive for the coveted Top Four Trophy! It’s dead, defunct, gone. Bye bye TFT.

    Our new target is having more points than last year and whoopee-dee-doo, by Joe we have done it! 72, yes SEVENTY-TWO, points are in the bag and that’s one whole point more than last year. Slap on the back time boys, take a bow. And to think we might even get another 3 points on Sunday. Wow! Dizzy heights beckon. Seventy-five points. We might come 5th in the league and end up 18 points behind the champions, but that matters not a jot. We did better than last year, when somehow we came second.

    Incidentally, we also had 75 points two seasons ago, when we came 3rd and 79 points the year before when we also won the TFT.

    Truly pathetic and given the empty seats, I don’t think I am alone in thinking that.

  2. Thank you Yogi. Watching on the tele I felt a certain sympathy with the absentees, indeed I found completing the Telegraph crossword more interesting than the match itself.

    There were only two highlights as far as I’m concerned, Ozil’s lovely cushioned pass for the first Sanchez goal, and that goal itself.

    Giroud did little in the way of actually being a striker, Bellerin could have done a lot better had he got behind his full-back instead of turning in-field. Gibbs was poor. Holding looks better with every game he plays.

    A wet Tuesday night against an already relegated team and the attendance drops by fifteen thousand, a sign of things to come?

  3. Orson Kaert,

    Actual attendance may have been somewhere in the region of 45,000 to 50,000, but “official” attendance was 59,510. Presumably that is actually the number of seats sold, not the number of people actually in attendance.

    From a business perspective I can see why Arsenal FC need to know the sales volumes, but portraying that as attendance is disingenuous at best. Surely the club must know the actual attendance through the turnstiles for health & safety purposes; that should be the published figure.

  4. Some excitement for the last day is what its come down to, not that i think it will last, anything is possible i suppose so lets wait. Cup final is special though and im a fan , and we have more chance of winning an actual trophy than getting in the cl playoffs,

  5. Having gone to the match last night I would say it was under 40,000. Me and my boy were in the upper tier last night above the dug outs the and it was extremely sparsely populated all around.
    I also reckon at the final whistle there were less 20,000 in attendance.

  6. For those militant souls who expect that empty seats will send a message to the Kroenkes, there is bad news.
    It is fair to assume that at every home game all the empty seats have been paid for, making the Owner, a man interested in investment rather than football, extremely happy.
    And with a waiting list for season tickets currently around 40,000, there is little incentive for change on the horizon.
    Nevertheless, one would hope that during the Summer Transfer Window there will be judicious signings in order to strengthen the squad in readiness for the new season.
    It therefore behoves all loyal supporters to support club, manager and players
    in preparation for and during the forthcoming campaigns. 😉

  7. Morning YW great stuff as usual. Shame Wenger didn’t have the balls to change formation earlier. The transformation in form has been astonishing.
    Cech suddenly looks like a proper keeper again we have stopped conceding goals on another day could have ran out 5 or 6 nil winners. That keeper Pickford MOM by a country mile. For all he has to work on is his distribution, my guess is teams like Liverpool will be falling over themselves to get him.
    Special mention to Xhaka who’s passing was outstanding last night.
    Irrespective of whether we are going to continue with this formation we absolutely need a proper number 9.

  8. Excellent post Yogi and thanks for keeping ACLF going.

    Tend to agree, the only real highlights was the quality cushioned pass from Ozil and the finish.

    People will drool over PIckford’s performance against us but how many other GK’s have had MOTM performances against us since the move to the Emirates?

  9. C,

    There have been many motm keeper experiences but there was amazing saves by pickford c. Also enjoyed the passing masterclass from Xhaka.

  10. silvergunner,

    I always enjoy Xhaka’s range of passing and think that while he was still adapting defensively, his range of passing has been pretty good all season. Not saying Pickford was really really good against us but I just don’t understand the notion of buying him.

  11. C,

    Yeah on this occasion I have to agree with Wenger we have a 3 talented keepers unless 2 of the 3 go we shouldn’t be looking to get any others we have bigger fish to fry surely?

  12. silvergunner,

    Completely agree. Cech, Sczcney and Martinez with Ospina likely off are more than enough and Martinez is a really talented big GK. I mean, your spot on when you said no matter the formation we need a number 9 and that is becoming more and more clear with every match if it wasn’t before.

  13. Nothing highlights the fact that a CF should be priority #1,2 and 3 more than the fact that Ozil breaks the PL chances created record and our CF didn’t score a single goal.

  14. The kind of keeper you want at a big club is one who commands his area, distributes well, organizes and communicates with his defenders and is focused enough to make a save after long periods with nothing to do. Pickford was terrific at stopping shots; a fine young talent.

    The job description for our keeper includes other aspects as well. I agree that we have bigger fish to fry. We’ve been lacking a proper CF for 5 seasons. A proper defensive midfielder for even longer.

  15. Thanks for the match report and incisive comments as usual, YW.

    I am happy to deliver my report on the annual ACLF meetup, which for the first time met in North America. Quorum was low, like at the stadium itself, but the meeting very successful. Canada seems to agree with Jonny, the traveling member, as nothing (so far) has been broken. An Arsenal win was received with restrained pleasure by Jonny and myself at the Toucan, Kingston’s best pub downtown for watching “soccer” and home of the local Cataraqui Soccer Club. We caught glimpses of the Reading v Fulham decider for Wembley as well as the final minutes of City v WBA before repairing home for a meal with the Limestonegunners and some footie on the grass at the park across the street. Little LSG displayed his skills, I displayed my lack of skills and Jonny appears to have dislocated his big toe.

    Submitted, respectfully, to our Blogger-in-chief and to the Chairman.

  16. Not dislocated but a bit sore.
    I was very well behaved – the piano is unblemished.
    On the Pickford front – I like him a lot and based on several really quite outstanding performances I have seen from him I fancy he he has more of that rare ‘thou shall not pass’ charisma and determination than any of our options.
    I’m not averse to bringing back Scz and I like Martinez but IMO Pickford looks like he could be a little bit special.
    Of course he has shortcomings – he is only 23, very young in keeper terms – but I fancy it is entirely possible that, a few years from now, we might look back on an opportunity missed.

  17. C,

    agree. Nearly got Ozil a second yellow as well as his frustration boiled over and he took it out on a Sunderland player and the hoardings. Thought he was outstanding last night

  18. Sam,

    Yea, it is interesting to see the last couple of matches Ozil either pick up a yellow or put in some rash challenges. His (along with Sanchez’s) frustrations with Giroud though are nothing new, it seems to have been that way for quite some time now.

  19. I see Ozil along with Kroos and Muller have been left out of the Confederation Cup this summer as Lowe says he wants to give them rest.

  20. Pep says that had he been at a big club he’d have been fired. What does that say about us? Most folks down here seemed resigned to losing Alexis, they say he deserves to play at a big club? With the price of a ticket at the Emirates – the most expensive in the EPL – why the hell aren’t we a big club? When the club moved to the Emirates I actually believed that once the loan was manageable we be a big club! Well? Gooner for life but another disappointing season. But really sad when I think of the London gooners who hold the most expensive season tickets in Europe and will have to contend with a slot in the Europa Cup. Sad!

  21. C,

    C
    Hopefully Scz will come back. Sadly Ospina is too small for eps.

    Nicky

    Empty seats also send a message to new signings: would you want to play in a half empty stadium week in week out for a clueless manager who will not compete for major trophies?

    I think the waiting list for season tickets may diminish somewhat next year.

  22. “but I fancy it is entirely possible that, a few years from now, we might look back on an opportunity missed.”

    Missed opportunities ? Arsenal ? That is an outrageous suggestion, not at all like us. The only person not missing an opportunity is our dear leader and owner, the invisible man with invisible representatives. Stan the man with a plan not to win trophies. A quick recap :

    “If you want to win championships then you would never get involved. I think the best owners in sports are the guys that sort of watch both sides a bit. If you don’t have a good business then you can’t really afford to go out and get the best players unless you just want to rely on other sources of income. Over there [in the Premier League] it was sort of like ‘well, we’ve got guys from the Middle East, the oil price is over $100, they can spend anything they want. But the problem I saw with all of that; those people can lose interest. It doesn’t mean that they will, but I sort of threw that out there: ‘What happens when the Middle Eastern family, this thing’s costing a lot of money and they decide to go home?’ I said what really happens in those situations is the fans get hurt because the players get picked up and paid if they’re good, the front office gets other jobs.”

    What a pile of utter nonsense ! This is our owner…..good god, we sold our soul !

  23. is there independent figures for the season ticket waiting list numbers ?
    they make up/hide the real attendance figures, why would i believe the ‘waiting list’ veiled threat ?!

  24. Hello Yogi,
    Always a pleasure reading you day in, day out.
    I must say I never saw that Eddie Murphy film you used its picture above.
    What’s the title please?

  25. Buffalo
    I think the waiting list figures may be correct. The number of people willing and able to take them may well be another matter completely. I was offered one 2 years back despite being 20+ thousand on the list. Unfortunately (or not depending on your outlook) work and finances put the mockers on it.

  26. @Otto von B.,
    Can’t see, week after week, seats being paid for and not occupied. And if the existing season ticket holders disappear, there is that replacement host waiting in the wings.
    Arsenal Football Club has, over the centuries, built up such an increased devouted following that it is virtually impossible to contemplate a serious decline in those who wish to attend its matches. 😉

  27. nicky,

    I was there last night as a season ticket holder. I would estimate the attendance at 40k.

    I know a number of season ticket holders who will not be renewing next season. I also know a number of people on the season ticket waiting list who have been offered tickets for next season. One was in position 12,000 a season back. He declined.

    I suspect the waiting list may be running dry.

  28. Great post Yogi

    If we sell Alexis this summer I suspect next years end of the year run of positive results will be an attempt to climb into the last Europa league position. I guess its possible we might be able to stay close to the top 4 if we have the best defensive record in the league but that seems highly unlikely. Our lack of true impact players and goal scorers not named Alexis has been quite evident for much of this season. Imagine any other big team whose best scorer was Giroud. Not a mouth watering prospect.

  29. I am sitting on a second floor balcony watching the waves crash into a rocky coast line in Kauai. Heading over to Maui tomorrow so I missed the game yesterday and I will not watch the game this Sunday. I am fully confident of our ability to win but I suspect Liverpool and Man City will both get the results they need. I have been banging on about us somehow climbing into the top 4 for most of this season but I suspect I will be wrong about that one. I really hope if we do miss the CL next season that it will actually light a fire under Arsene’s feet and he will make an effort to start to rebuild this squad and actually feel some sort of a sense of urgency to have the team mentally and physically ready to play starting with game 1 next season.

  30. I did not see the game but I have heard a lot of very good things about Jordan Pickford. I don’t think Cech is the same world class GK he once was but he is still a good and most important a reasonably consistent GK. I suspect Pickford would be more then willing to be the cup team GK for a season or 2. A GK is certainly not our highest priority but a little planning for the future would be a good idea.

  31. Arsene’s spending spree last summer suggests that he recognized that we would have a tough time holding on to our top 4 spot. Hopefully missing the top 4 and the prospect of an even tougher season next year will be an even bigger kick in the arse. No doubt that Mourinho and Pep and Klopp will be working hard to improve their teams this summer. Conte does not look like he will go away and Spurs might struggle to replicate this years success but they are still a much better team then we are and they are a real threat.

  32. Glad to hear all went well and that Canada is still there, Lsg.

    It is a good thing that the ‘meet up’ was away this year but surely that is a sign of the times. Very sad.

    Nicky, you don’t seem to get it, but genuine, long term and generational Arsenal fans are fed up to the back teeth the corporate and ego serving entity that The Arse has become.

    I hope that you enjoy your time with the tourists. Good luck.

  33. Evening,

    Happy with the result last night as i hate us losing. It was a solid performance, although the front line weren’t firing on any cylinders at all for at least an hour. Giroud is now taking up the space of a player who actually wants to work for a living, although he did manage to get himself involved in one of the goals.

    Wenger keeps coming out for those crackers, doesn’t he? Apparently he can’t see what all the fuss is about top 4. That from the man who actually said that getting into the top 4 is like winning a trophy. So that’s another trophy he doesn’t want to win then. And the comment about getting more points than last season is a beauty. We have improved our points tally from last season, but have dropped from 2nd to 5th. In other words, everyone above us has hugely improved from last season and left us trailing. A situation that every pundit, journalist and most fans predicted last summer.

  34. @consolsbob,
    Re the 3rd paragraph of your comment, of course I understand the fed-up-ness of a number of fans. Crikey, it would take a blind man to miss all the bile and hatred on the pages of this site for many months.
    I don’t agree with the attitude although I accept it is there.
    My simple creed is that we should always support the team and whoever is the manager, because we will never have the power to legally cause change within the Club’s existing governance.
    That is not to say that I ignore a disappointing season, poor performances and strange decisions, although I accept each as the cross ALL loyal supporters of all clubs, have to bear. It’s all part of the game. 😉

  35. Wavey,

    I think he’s used every excuse there is why none of this matters or is his fault.

    It’s like an old emperor/despot desperate to cling on to power and keep his empire intact. I’ve really lost respect for the man.

  36. Welsh Corgi

    Every manager wants to keep his job and keep as much control as he can and not many would take responsibility in public. I don’t remember Mourinho ever taking the blame. Even Fergie would blame refs or something out of his control when he did not win. The difference is that those other top managers recognize that what they say in public is different then what they believe and they actually make an effort to fix whatever is causing their team to underperform. I think Arsene has put so much emotional energy into doing things his way that he may have become incapable of seeing reality. We often talk about fans seeing what they want to see rather then seeing what is really happening and I think Arsene does the same thing.

  37. Nicky…..my simple creed…..it’s not a one off disappointing season of poor performances and strange decisions, it’s a decade, or more. Fans have forced the change of manager and even ownership countless times, if you don’t want to protest fair enough but asking everyone else to be so passive is a very long stretch. And your argument doesn’t really make sense, you suggest you dont think it’s good enough by your own words, yet are happy for it to continue indefinitely ? Or do you think Stan will make the best decision for you ? Complaining about your club is frankly just as much what game is about as anything else….as Nick Hornby wrote “the natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score”.

  38. @Buffalo,
    Sorry if I have upset you by posting my simple creed as a supporter of Arsenal FC for many decades.
    All I was trying to do was to defuse, in a way, some of the increasingly militant loathing of the manager following a disappointing season.
    I’m sure all Arsenal employees do their best.
    I hope you and I , at this time next year, will have cause to enjoy the end of a particularly successful season by Arsenal FC. 😉

  39. ‘Militant Loathing’, ‘Bile’ &’Hatred’.

    No, not the label inside Theresa May’s gusset or the band line up for a night of Sludge Metal at the King’s Head in Camden.

    Nope that’s the pages of this site for many months.

    So that’s what ACLF has become?

    Nicky – if you’re going to come on these pages and make hyperbolic accusations – you are going to have to collect the evidence that supports them. I have not seen any such thing as you describe.

    My offer: prove that regular contributors have sunk to such depths, and I will join you in condemnation.

    If you cannot do this, then you are now approaching repeated levels of wilful mischaracterisation and defenceless untruths, so as to border on the libellous. No?

    Good job we’re not a litigious bunch eh?

    [winky smiley face to suggest I am joking even though I’m not]

    😉

  40. Bill,

    Morning Bill,

    Yes, by all means, I think everyone wants to look as good as possible and very few people will come out and say “mea culpa”.

    Though what sort of irks me is that monsieur Wenger has been hailed almost as the second coming of Jesus and a revered genius. As the man who changed English football and the architect behind Arsenals golden age.

    But if what if he’s not all that. Just a very lucky man who came at the right time, in the right environment? Maybe the fact that France had their golden age when he arrived, inheriting maybe the best back five ever and having David Dein around played a part

    I’m weary of the lame excuses. Think it would be a breath of fresh air to hear him own up to the shortcomings. Acknowledge that we haven’t even competed for the title since 2009. That’s simply not good enough for a club of Arsenals
    stature.

  41. Mo,

    Not sure that we do stand a better chance of winning the FA Cup over Liverpool losing 4th. Both are long shots, but Chelsea want the double, there is a 20 point gulf between the quality of the teams and AW is belatedly learning his tactics off Conte; we are the students in that tussle.

    Anything can happen sure, and we have lost so many matches recently that the winning streak will be hard to remove from our lads who are finally back on form ( or they remember how to play football), but you would be a fool to bet against Chelsea right now.

  42. @Jonny,
    Sorry, but I have no wish to attempt to debate any issue with a guy whose selective memory denies the very existence of loathing, bile and hatred towards Arsene Wenger on this site for many months now.

  43. nicky,

    With regards empty seats…. The board might be getting paid for those so directly the coffers don’t decline.

    However, sponsors do care. They don’t like empty stadia. They don’t like stadiums packed with fans that are protesting. Not things that they want their brands associated with. The board will listen when big business starts to stay away.

    As a (kind of) example, I heard today that Adidas have a clause in their deal with United that will cost the £30m if they don’t make the UCL for next season. Could be an expensive old game for them next Wednesday.

  44. @Damon,
    You make a valid point. Only the loss of mega bucks would cause the departure of the Kroenkes. 😉

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