A trip to the comfortable environs of Finsbury Park has Pete Sixsmith all nostalgic for the proletarian terraces of Boundary Park and real football. His mood is not helped by Wenger’s usual churlish comments about Sunderland, but he takes heart from a disciplined and effective performance.
Twelve games left, 31 points on the board and we are inching towards safety and mid table respectability. Not the most exciting words ever written about football, but as we gathered another precious point, it sums up what we are all about at the moment.
Unfortunately for Professor Wenger and the bourgeois fans who inhabit the comfy seats at Ashburton Grove, we are not playing football the right way, by refusing to roll over and allow Arsenal to show off their silky attacking skills to the gathered aficionados sat there with their ciabatta rolls and their personalised shirts.
Instead, we are condemned by a man who, in the immortal words of Phil Cool, “Looks like someone who has just put his finger through the toilet paper”, as Arsenal failed to break down our resolute and determined defence.
This was one of the most satisfying performances of the season. Tactics and plans had been well thought out and as long as we got through the first twenty minutes we were ok. We did and we were. Players were given specific tasks and instructions, and were expected to follow them.
They did. From an increasingly impressive Fulop through to a hard working Jones, the team carried out their tasks and thwarted an Arsenal side whose frustration and desperation grew as they saw the Holy Grail of being the fourth best team in the Premier League slip away from them.
Everything was well organised; tight marking at the back, a good balance in midfield and support for the lone striker as and when needed. Ferdinand was outstanding in the middle of the back four and looks an England player and Sunderland captain in the making. The other three all did well, with Ben Haim using the ball to good effect throughout.
Behind these four behemoths, Fulop oozed confidence and authority. His handling was so assured he looked like a £9m player – on this form it may be a while before we see Craig Gordon back in first team action.
Our central midfield was far better than theirs as it did its job. We were able to eliminate any threat posed by the inadequate Song and Denilson without any real difficulty, enabling Whitehead to push on and Richardson to burst forward.
Poor old Kenwyne was up front on his own, his best moments coming when he joined the defence at set pieces.
Throw in energetic cameos from Leadbitter, Murphy and Edwards and we looked like a competent, well organised Premier League team, as far away from the disorganised, demotivated and defeated crew that turned out against Bolton in November, as Uranus is from the Sun.
The players are the same (bar Ben Haim), so why the change? Maybe it’s because we have a coach in charge who realises that players can perform tasks if the tasks are explained to them. Perhaps the training ground is a place where lessons are absorbed in a positive atmosphere instead of being a place where Stakhanovite tendencies need to be exhibited if a first team place is to be secured. Maybe Sbragia is our Khrushchev or Dubceck – Management with a human face.
Saturday was my second experience of Ashburton Grove and you have to say that it is an impressive structure. I bet it’s great watching a game like the recent Brazil v Italy international when fans create an atmosphere, but I have to confess that for league games, there is more atmosphere on some of the more far flung planets in our solar system.
It’s football for the bourgeoisie, for those who have come to the game since Italia ’90 and who demand to be entertained. Sure, it’s fine to sit in a comfortable seat, enjoying fine sightlines – and have an atmosphere akin to that generated by a particularly dull lecture on 1930’s matchbox labels. Give me the delights of the uncovered visitors’ end at Boundary Park anytime – and Jimmy Frizzell was much more gracious than Arsene Wenger.