Soapbox: the O’Neill factor outsmarts Arsène, Sessegnon outclasses Arsenal

Another gem from Jake

Pete Sixsmith
eulogises a thumpingly good display by Sunderland, heaping praise on supreme gifts and honest endeavour alike. He will return to the matter of the disappointingly low attendance but, for now, revels in the warm glow of resurgent times for the club …

As a retired 60 year old, I am less inclined to shout my head off at games and join in the singing than I was as a callow youth. But once in a while, something happens to make me forget my East Stand reserve and wish that I was stood in the Fulwell End again or even sitting in the South West Corner.

Saturday was such a day as we comfortably saw off the poorest Arsenal side I have seen for many years. I joined in with a couple of choruses of “They are by far the greatest side the world has ever seen” and contributed to a rousing rendition of “Sunderland, Sunderland, Sunderland” as our team battered the North Londoners into oblivion.

At no stage in the 90 minutes did I feel that Arsenal would threaten us as our midfield closed them down and our defence was resolute. Plus, we had by far and away the most accomplished player on the pitch in Stéphane Sessegnon, who was a constant threat to the visitors back line and who showed skill levels I have never seen in a Sunderland player.

Towards the end of the game, he chipped the ball over the head of Vermaelen, took the ball forward and delivered a great, low cross that McClean was a fraction away from. For a Sunderland player to do this to an international defender was the stuff of dreams and cements him as a true legend in the pantheon of Red and Whites. Of course, his tireless running and his all round vision we more or less take for granted, but specials like this are what excite us and make us watch football.

As seen by Jake

He is the class act in this team, but he is joined by perhaps less talented individuals who are just as vital to the team ethos that MON has created in little over three months at the SOL. Jack Colback, a fringe player in the past, has flourished and is showing many more people what we Reserve team watchers saw four years ago.

Colback’s confidence levels are high and he benefits from being given a specific role, which allows him to get forward, rather than being told to sit, as he was by the previous management team. He never let the Arsenal midfield settle, looked far superior to Ramsey and, along with Cattermole and Gardner, ratted around in the centre of the park, reducing Arteta to a peripheral player who looks nice on the ball, but who delivers nothing.

Once again, our defence easily absorbed the limp and flaccid attacks that were offered by Arsenal. Apart from one run and shot by Gervinho, neither he nor van Persie (who has contributed nothing in 180 minutes) posed any threat to Mignolet’s goal. In fact, the Masked Belgian will have few easier afternoons and he looks increasingly secure behind O’Shea and Turner.

Both central defenders were so strong. O’Shea reads the game as if he were John Gielgud reading Shakespeare – calm, collected, but reaching the high points when necessary, while Turner is so strong and determined and looks the centre half he was before he set out on this debilitating run of injuries.

But it is back to midfield, the engine room of the team and that is where our success lies. Whether we play four or five there, we know that the commitment and strength will be on show for 90 minutes.

Cattermole returned for this one and he proceeded to do all the things that he had been doing before his injury – well timed tackles, constant harrying, brave blocks, while not diving in and getting booked early on. He is a rejuvenated player under Martin O’Neill.

Larsson was restored to the wide right position for this one and he must have ran the equivalent of Sunderland to Stockholm and back. What his former club could do with a player who never gives up and who has the skill and ability to get into dangerous positions. He was there to force Oxlade-Chamberlain to push the ball over the line for the clinching goal.

Click here for the Martin O’Neill ‘Team of all Talents’ mug: £9.50, post-free for UK buyers, from the Salut! Sunderland Shop

It really was a triumph of teamwork and organisation over a languid and disinterested Arsenal side that had a number of players who looked as if they can’t wait to get away from Ashburton Grove in the summer.

Evewry Sunderland player made a significant contribution to this win. There were no weak links as we showed the virtues of team work and organisation over the dilettante approach of the likes of van Persie, Gervinho and Arteta.

O’Neill has taken a squad of players who were bereft of confidence and who were heading for a relegation battle, which, under the previous manager, they would have lost. Instead, we are in the Sixth Round of the Cup and are a team that nobody wants to play.

It was the second half of an excellent sporting double for this writer as I had seen a similar gritty and gutsy performance from Leeds Rhinos as they overcame the Manly Sea Eagles in the World Club Challenge at Headingley on Friday night. Both clubs are coached by hard bitten Brits, both clubs have players who put themselves on the line and both clubs have a tradition and a genuine feel for the game.

Great weekend and even better ones to come …


26 thoughts on “Soapbox: the O’Neill factor outsmarts Arsène, Sessegnon outclasses Arsenal”

  1. A fair assessment of the game … when I say I was worried for “5 minutes” of this cup tie, I mean just that.

    MON and his staff had obviously revised hard for this one from the league game to Arsenals tie in midweek against Milan. The setup was spot on, RVP’s supply line was cut off and that was the obvious base to work from.

    As Malcolm has rightly pointed to, the same eleven in 2011 would have sat and soaked up the pressure, 2012 under MON is not to play the “run 40 yards backwards” way but to actually get up there in the faces, the feet, the legs and the nostrils of the opposition.

    That equates to an increased workrate, but it’s working, it’s inspiring. We may not always succeed in that type of endeavour, but, this time around it was right.

    I was worried for 5 minutes.

    With the tie against Everton, it does have familiarity of being more evenly matched and the boxing day “Howard Webb lucky dip penalty” was all the Toffees seemed to offer. The cup tie will be an entirely different encounter, but we have nothing to fear.

    The metaphorical brick walls MON is erecting and the subsequent destruction of them by our current squad full of confidence is nothing short of amazing.

    Bring on the Baggies.

  2. Great game watched on TV but spoiled by ex gunner Stewart Robson who after 3 minutes declared MON had set up his team wrong and was in for a torrid afternoon from the slick passing Arsenal. After 7 minutes stated that MON had miscalculated and his tactics wouldn’t work he was playing into Arsenals hands. Well done Mr Robson your assessment was hoplessly wrong and you again allowed your bias to to cloud your mind, get a real job and one at least you’re good at

  3. I should add that I’m not sure Everton is the worst draw we could have got. Nor do I altogether agree with Malcolm that we should hope for Birmingham or Leicester in the semis. As Middlesbrough showed us, it’s the teams outside the Premiership that can play above themselves and get a result. If either Birmingham or Leicester beat Chelsea, they’ll come into the final four loaded for bear. I fancy us against Liverpool, myself.

    • Bill – in my roundabout way I’m saying I’d love to see Chelsea and all the AVB hype get knocked out by a team from a lower division.

      At the end of the day the team has to beat whoever they are drawn against if they are to lift the trophy!

  4. Everton was probably the last team I wanted us to draw given our record against them, but it’s a sign of how far we’ve come under MON that I’m now thinking it’ll be an even contest, though home advantage to them might swing it.

  5. If it’s the worst, then let’s get it over with now. Besides, we don’t want it to be too easy! It should be a cracking game but I think we can contain Everton and not let them play too much. They may be chasing but we’re running….

  6. Careful Bill. This is possibly the worst draw we could have got. Everton are in a similar position to ourselves – seemingly safe in the league and chasing a bit of long overdue Cup success. It’s gonna be tough.

    • If we want a trip to London for the semi and hopefully the final then Spurs and Liverpool would on paper be a tougher draw. Having said that there are no easy games at this stage of the tournament and to win you have to stay undefeated.

  7. So glad I chose this one to drive up and back from Essex with 2 of the sons. The only disappointment was the crowd (quantity, not quality).
    This was clearly O’Neill’s win.
    Arsenal are (were) skilled at probing and threading passes through tiny gaps in opposition midfields and defences so MoN set us out to make sure they had neither the time nor space to do that. I think they managed once or twice and found Ming becoming ever more solid & consistent.
    I guess lots of coaches and managers would also know this – it isn’t rocket science – but MoN inspires belief and confidence, therefore the players respond appropriately.
    The middle 3 of Gardiner, Colback and Catts were tremendous and everything hinged on them stifling any Arsenal attempts at getting at our superbly marshalled defence.
    Arsenal didn’t play well because they weren’t allowed to.
    Sess is a genius.

  8. But in the previous cup game, Sess was literally up front on his own, whereas yesterday the same formation was not the same system, as Gardner, Colback, McClean and Larsson all broke quickly to support and stretch the Arsenal defence. Under Bruce that formation couldn’t have stretched an elastic band, given the predictable, pedestrian nature of our passing and movement. And as for Gunnerpete’s claim of missing 8 players, that only works if those 8 would have changed the game; Walcott actualy came on (after being awful the previous week) and I’m not sure he touched the ball and of the others only Wilshire would have made us sit up and take notice. Injuries are part of the game, and when you fall back on them as an excuse you are in a spot of bother.

  9. It’s ironic that we won a cup tie playing 4-5-1 with the vertically challenged Sessingnon as the lone striker. I recall a previous cup match (Brighton) where the former manager was slaughtered for the same tactic. Funny old game.

    • One main difference Puskas is that MON has obviously instructed the midfield five to get forward quickly, to support Sess and to have a go at goal. Something Bardsley and Richardson are also encouraged to do. Bruce’s plan was for the holding midfielders to hold and the the wide men to stay back to provide them with extra cover.

      There is no comparison between two vastly similar formations set up to play in different ways. And Bruce would still be playing Elmo not McClean. The Irish lad has a lot to learn still, but he has freshened up the left side and the amount of work he gets through is amazing.

      I can’t pretend to be a big fan of the sit back and soak up pressure and beat them on the break approach, but it’s working. Roll on Goodison.

  10. Pete S, as I promised a week ago I will come back for the enevitable flack that our performances deserve. AFc deservedly beat you in the league a week ago and just a desevedly lost yesterday. But please, as biased as we all are about our clubs, lets add a bit of common sense. Apart from Manchester Uniteds biggest fan & ref missing the mots obvious of penalties to put us 1-0 up ( who knows after that) my team were crap. Your team played well….my team had (wait for it) anothe 8 players missing , yours had 3 back. It all means that we at AFC have a crap second team squad that played yesterday. Just to show Im not crying wolf…Szcezny, Gibbs, Koscielnu, Mertasacker, Walcott, Wilshire, Santos, Jenkinson…all out. Thats not your fault but its the only think keeping us Gunners from falling under the nearest bus. So as THE ARSENAL slide into mediocrity we wish you well for now.

    • Oh GunnerPete – just after I was singing your praises too. O’Shea won the ball before he made contact with VP and it wasn’t a reckless or dangerous tackle. Defenders have a right to challenge fairly and win the ball which in my opinion he did. But as you say we deserved it on effort alone yesterday. Our players never looked anything less than fully focussed whilst some of those in blue looked disheartened when things went against them.

      Yes you are having bad luck with injuries – that was one of Steve Bruce’s frequently used excuses too – we have had more than a fair share too since MON has come in but he has organised the players he has had available (Gardner and Colback as full backs for instance) and used fringe players such as Kilgallon (who also got injured as soon as he got back into the side) effectively.

      What nearly drives SAFC fans under a bus is watching a team without fight – the current regime has saved us from that fate.

    • We listened last week today we speak, Arsenal are a team in decline and the reaspn is obvious, Mr Wenger refuses to play British defenders and the reason I believe is they think for themselves and he wants robots. This is the reality if Sunderland had Arsenals defence we would be relegated, if Arsenal had Sunderlands they would be pushing for the title. Does that mean Sunderland have the best defence in England No but Arsenal have the worst. Turner made RVP look ordinary O’shea read the game easily and Bardsley and Richardson had your wingers in their pockets for the 2nd week in a row. The Arsenal defence are bullied off the ball and seem both weak and slightly stiff ( boys sent to do mens work) its little wonder Man U stuck you 8. The men you have missing would have made no significant change to the result especially Walcott who looks terrified of Bardo. Injuries are not the problem but lack of the English spirit that Adams Keowns Bould etc brought to the great arsenal teams of the past

    • Just for reference, Sunderland were missing the following players, ALL of whom were first choice when getting injured : Gordon, Brown, Bramble, Vaughan, Bendtner and it has been worse at other points in the season. We won 2 games in January with central midfielders as full backs. We have belief and fight and, at the moment, as far as I can see, Arsenal don’t. I know I am biased but if you compare the 2 sides on Saturday’s performance only, I think that all 11 would come from Sunderland. I know that sounds mental but look at the list below and tell me where I am wrong (emphasising JUST on Saturday):

      Mignolet v Fabianski. Both did ok but Fabianski flapped at a couple of crosses and Mignolet was good in the air this week (and made 1 very good save).
      Bardsley v Sagna – Very close but Sagna could easily have been sent off and McLean caused him problems all afternoon where Bardo looked comfortable.
      Richardson v Vermaelen – No contest. Ricco had Oxlade-Chamberlain in his pocket, despite him being a good player who was trying hard.
      OShea/Turner v Djourou/Squllacci or Song – No contest
      Catts/Gardner/Colback v Arteta/Ramsey/Song – clearly Sunderland won midfield. Arsenal put more passes straight into touch than I can ever remember seeing, mainly due to be constantly harried
      Larsson v Oxlade-Chamberlain – O-C tried really hard but never beat Richardson. Larsson put a couple of good crosses in, covered loads of ground and again provided a real threat at set pieces
      McLean v Gervinho – Goes to the young man without any question
      Sess v van Persie – RVP is a great player having a great season but has done precisely nothing in 2 games at SoL and Sess was always a threat.

      I know I am completely biased but I would like to hear from anyone who disagrees with any of the above.

  11. A magnificent performance. This was for me the point where I could really see Sunderland as a team which could make a significant impact on the Premiership. As you say Pete, the midfield was particularly strong, but every player was part of a disciplined and motivated whole. It is the case that some of our players are not top quality, but everyone played with skill as well as verve. There was a joy about our game, something we never saw under Bruce. MON has brought life to the squad in ways above just motivation and good organisation. That the pundits’ response was to mourn Arsenal’s loss of form rather than our skill and positivity was regretable. The old order can do with some shaking up and we are up for it !

      • Sick of being patronised and insulted,talk about North/ South stereotypes. Sunderland have a balance between skill and strength. We could do with a Van Persie but can also play effectively without one. I take pleasure in knowing that London will have to endure the Olympics with all the upheaval and hysteria that will bring, while we can calmly plan ahead for next season.

      • As a Gunner of 62 years (age 69) I do not subscribe to the clogging crap. You played to your strengths and won….my team need 15/20 passes to get to your box ?? Who has it right you or us?

      • Thanks for that Pete and reaffirming my belief that the majority of Arsenal fans are fair minded, lacking the arrogance and smarmy superiority that emanates from many (not all) Chelski and Man Ure supporters.

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