Yet another defeat dumps Sunderland in deep trouble. We now face a steep uphill battle to regain respectability in mid-table while further lapses at home could send us down. But we were not disgraced at the Emirates – and might even, with a spot of good fortune, have stolen a point …
First of all, let us acknowledge that Arsenal were head and shoulders above the limited team Steve Bruce was able to field.
Throughout the game, the Gunners’ slick, fast football combined with our suicidal surrender of possession to ensure wave upon wave of assaults on our goal. Craig Gordon had as good a game as I’ve seen him play since his epic, pre-Sunderland display for Scotland in Paris. That is just as well as we would otherwise have lost by a greater margin.
But we were not devoid of goalscoring chances of our own. Kenwyne Jones sliced £2m off his future fee with a feeble miss when through one on one but choosing the worst possible place to put his shot. Darren Bent had a harder but eminently scorable one on one in the second half.
And Steve Bentley made harsh bookings of our players (three of the four cards, I would say) while producing no card for Cesc Fabregas for what seemed to me to be one of the worst challenges of the game as we pressed for an equaliser. Since he had already been booked, that would have made for an interesting finish and he would not have been available to take a late penalty.
There was also a decent penalty shout of our own before Arsenal got theirs.
Sunderland have learnt, however, to expect few favours from Bentley. In fairness, he did award us two late free kicks in dangerous positions, though it would have been hard to justify not doing so.
Defeat was no more than we all assumed would be the outcome. A ramshackle midfield and porous defence could never be a match for Arsenal’s stylish and dynamic football. We battled gamely but although, as has already been noted elsewhere, the second half improvement might, with luck, have produced a valiant draw, it could as easily have been 4-0.
Steve Bruce has a mountain to climb if we are to get out of trouble. Sadly, even a forthcoming run of home games will not strike realistic Sunderland fans as offering the gentlest of ascents.