Sunderland 0 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Collins o.g. (27)
0 – 2 Fabregas (40)
0 – 3 Henry (43)
Sunderland have the worst record at home this season in any of the professional divisions in England and Scotland. In fact you can add in the upper echelons of Non-League Football in England as well. Which, on paper, made them the perfect team for Arsenal to cock it up against; the memories of a defeat to an equally poor Stoke City side in the mid-1980’s still burn deeply. As it happened, Sunderland were so poor that Arsenal never got into top gear, did not look like doing so nor did they need to.
Resisting the temptation for widespread tinkering for which he has become renowned this season, Wenger fielded the strongest side that he could given the injuries to Hleb, Gilberto, Senderos, Flamini and Reyes – although I’m not sure Reyes actually qualifies as injured, Wisdom Teeth removal not being a noted footballing knock. In came Clichy, Song, Diaby and Pires as the changes to the starting line up from last Tuesday.
The opening stages of the match reminded me why I hated going to places like Sunderland for Monday evening kick-offs. I still shudder at the memory of visiting Roker Park in 1991 for dreary goalless draw and getting back to Guildford at 3am following what seemed quite possibly to be the longest road journey ever. Well, that was until we went to Vienna by coach but that’s another story.
Back to todays match. Once the opening lethargy was out of the way, more wayward passing seemingly worse than in Spain, it was obvious that Sunderland were not going to improve on their home record. Pires went close in the first ten minutes with a sidefooted shot the wrong side of the post. Possession was turned into goals after 27 minutes. Henry drifted a freekick from the left towards the near post, Diaby ducked under it and the unfortunate Collins powered the header into his own net. Apparently, he has yet to score for Sunderland. The second arrived five minutes before the break, Henry exchanging passes with Fabregas, playing the little Spaniard in for a neatly taken finish under pressure from a neanderthal defender. The third came from Henry a couple of minutes later. A freekick on the left again, this time Henry went for goal, and left Davies groping at air. A resigned tone took over in the stadium, more worried about how many Arsenal would score and whether this would completely shag up Niall Quinn’s takeover of the club. As it was, aside from Kyle forcing a good save from Lehmann, Sunderland never threatened. Indeed, Lehmann threatened to lamp one of their forwards for dragging him down mid-flight, from a Sunderland freekick. The handbags that followed were summed up by Weedy Gary Breen threatening to hit Jens with his zimmer frame. Noticeably, the next Sunderland freekick left the Sourkraut to collect the ball completely unchallenged.
Ashley Cole’s return happened after just over an hour, filling in on the left hand side of midfield. Whilst this is not what Eriksson would have planned, he saw more action there than if he had gone in as Left Back. I would not be surprised if he started on Thursday. Despite what Terry Butcher thinks, if I were choosing the England squad, Cole and Campbell would be there, the latter for cover, and so would Rooney for that matter. We wait to see if the Swede concurs with that view.
Manchester City next on Thursday who will provide a sterner test that Sunderland. A win vital to put the pressure on Spurs for Sunday’s finale.