So it has been Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s week: wall-to-wall coverage at Salut! Sunderland of the build-up to today’s game at the Emirates – plus our Alsacien friend’s intemperate attack on the Porto match referee, Martin “hand of Thierry” Hannsson. Incompetent or dishonest, said Wenger, before prudently settling for “not competent” (an insult that should still lead to punishment).
We would love him to be left feeling the same at 5pm about today’s match referee, laying into him for the decision that brought Sunderland three points.
But a glance at the morning paper tells me the ref is Steve Bennett, unfondly remembered for inventing a reason to disallow a perfectly legitimate last-second winner against Villa a couple of seasons ago.
And, returning a favour to the top Arsenal fans’ site The Gunning Hawk, this – I’m afraid – was our summary and prediction:
There’s deep gloom over the Stadium of Light. Despite all that’s been spent, and all the promise and sense of ambition, we’re back in a familiar relegation scrap. We do have the makings of a decent squad. But a string of abject performances, especially but not only away, have combined with unfortunate injuries and immaturely self-inflicted suspensions to make winning something we no longer do. Bent can grab as many early goals as he wishes; we still cannot build on a lead or defend it. On Saturday, we’ll have an emergency midfield lining up, and you could run all over it. Or am I being altogether too doom-laden and defeatist? Are we going to end our dismal run of draws and defeats and clinch a sensational double over Arsenal with goals from Bent and Jones? My prediction sticks to realism: Arsenal – Sunderland: 4-1.
So ha’way Sunderland: put egg on the faces of Salut! Sunderland.
But The Gunning Hawk’s editor, Chris Borg, who did one of the Arsenal previews for us, chipped in with the following:
“You can be the most optimistic of Arsenal supporter, but starting January 31, Manchester United first, then Chelsea and finally Porto have exploited all our vulnerabilities to perfection, meaning that in our last six games in all competitions, we only won once and that was against Liverpool, and even there we didn’t 100% convince.
Now one could easily say that we suffered injuries or that referees were not good enough for the job but fact is that we reached a stage where even the players themselves realized you cannot keep on hiding behind the same excuses for ever. Andrey believes we lack class, Samir Nasri believes we lack experience and captain Cesc Fabregas did indeed say that the young age of this Arsenal squad should no longer a reason for no success.
But, just like a belated Christmas gift, here comes Sunderland, the perfect opportunity for our manager to try new things out ahead of what could easily be described as make or break time in our season. Colin Randall, who runs a Sunderland blog, invited me for an interview last week which I kindly provided and in return I asked him to tell us more on the Black Cats and he sort of confirmed that they are indeed a struggling side, reason why I would experiment with the line-up.
I read Manuel Almunia is ready to play through the pain of an injured finger. That’s just not right, enough of players rushed back into action – just like like Diaby – who aggravate their injury and stay out for a longer period.
Bacary Sagna needs a rest, in comes Emmanuel Eboue and Gael Clichy needs more than just that, so even if it could mean a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, Armand Traoré has to start.”
In other words, Arsenal fans expect nothing less that a routine win whatever line-up Wenger produces. We, as Sunderland fans, expect little while hoping for the best. Ha’way the Lads!
* With thanks to Carolyn Coles for the image from her Flickr pages