The Emirates countdown: expect a storming finish but a rocky start

Bill Taylor advocates realism ahead of Arsenal on Saturday. Whether that translates as the point he and most us would relish, or a philosophical response to heavy defeat, Bill expects the season to start slowly, if slowly’s the right word …

If faith can move mountains, then faith can surely also move a good striker into the Sunderland line-up.

Steven Fletcher, alas, seems as firmly rooted as a mountain in the Midlands and, for all Martin O’Neill’s stated optimism that there will be sudden and useful movement before the transfer window closes, this season’s squad right now is looking too much like last season’s for comfort.

At least Sessegnon appears to be staying put (I wish we could rely on that – ed), albeit with a crocked ankle; a classic good news/bad news scenario. The better news is that it’s apparently not as bad as first thought and he may be up front at the Emirates on Saturday.

The other bad news/good news is that Phil Bardsley also has an ankle injury, possibly not serious enough to keep him out of the season-opener but enough to rule him out of Scotland’s Wednesday game against Australia.

Let’s be grateful for such small mercies. And let’s be VERY grateful if we come away from Arsenal with a point. That’s not being pessimistic, but realistic.

Partly because of the lack of new blood – am I wrong (I haven’t checked but it seems so) in thinking Sunderland have made fewer signings than any other Premiership side? – but also because of the utter madness of the midweek international friendlies.

I’ve never seen much point to this kind of match, especially in today’s prevalent climate of “club before country.” It’s one thing to be playing in a tournament with something at stake. But Wednesday is just going to see a series of glorified kick-arounds with neither rhyme nor reason.

Having these just a few days before the season starts is doubly reprehensible. Players are going to be tired; some inevitably will be injured. Clubs such as Sunderland, whose squads are not as strong as they might be (and, let’s hope, very soon WILL be) stand to be doubly penalized.

O’Neill has, I believe, six players wasting their time and energy: Mignolet (who had a recent groin injury and really doesn’t need this outing), Larsson, McClean, Westwood, O’Shea and Elmohamady. David Vaughan might have been out there, too, if he wasn’t already on the injury list and a non-starter against Arsenal.

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Wes Brown has a big fitness question mark next to his name and the last thing O’Neill needs is anyone else sidelined.

In interviews with the BBC and the Sunderland Echo, MON has expressed his frustration with the internationals – “I genuinely don’t see the point, particularly after the Euros” – and acknowledged the work that still has to be done to put together what he calls “a proper squad. We’ve got a few weeks in which to work.”

Which is all well and good and I haven’t lost faith in the man to spend his money wisely. I just wish it would happen sooner rather than later. I wish, too, that Connor Wickham wasn’t being dangled as loan bait for Fletcher.

I can still see a storming finish for Sunderland this season. But I fear the Cats will get off to a slow start and then have to play some determined catch-up. Patience is going to be a virtue.

The Arsenal game will be a good indicator. Let’s just hope and pray MON isn’t forced to start a bunch of bench-warmers to fill in for casualties from the Wednesday follies.

5 thoughts on “The Emirates countdown: expect a storming finish but a rocky start”

  1. Unless serious strides are made to improve this squad which is now significantly weaker than the parlous state we were in at the end of last season, we will find ourselves in the relegation mire in the coming weeks. Let there be no doubt about that.

    Arsenal is a difficult opening fixture at the best of times. Anything short of a complete drubbing will come as a relief. The Fletcher saga has gone on long enough now. Time to move on elsewhere, assuming there are other targets to move on to. Wolves will find that their prize asset is not enjoying Championship football soon enough and their expectations regarding their prize asset are likely to soften. A lack of imagination and a lack of progress are blinding us here. It’s a pathetic situation which has gone on long enough, and a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

  2. I continue (with nothing really to base it on) to be optimistic about Sess. What I really hate is the thought of the team going to London on Saturday with a fair-size number of the fans expecting a loss, hoping it’s not a real shellacking and looking at a single point as a great result. That’s an attitude from the Bruce era, when the idea was not necessarily to win but avoid being beaten. We should be beyond that.

  3. Wolves have apparently turned down the latest improved offer of £12m. He is good but not worth it but then think Henderson and Carroll; I suspect we will go higher.

    I just hope we have more up our sleeves than him and Stephen Ward; especially if we must brace ourselves for the worst on Sess

  4. What worries me is that if you look at any of the local papers – Sunderland Echo, Northern Echo, Evening Chronicle – there isn’t a hint of movement. The last Sunderland story on the BBC website was posted August 9 and there was very little substance to it. Google “Steve Fletcher and Sunderland” and you go back almost a week to a slew of “oh yes, he will… oh no, he won’t” speculation. There’s just over two weeks left until the transfer window closes. O’Neill was very conservative in January – rightly so, I thought – but he has a bit of money to splash around now. I dunno who’s left up for grabs, though. And that worries me, too.

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