Sixer’s Arsenal Soapbox: gutsy draw but think how it might have been …

Jake: ‘just come home happy from Stoke, Sixer’

Pete Sixsmith presents his customary expert analysis and reflects on what might have been if only we’d been playing like this at the start of the season. Three points would have been a lot more reassuring, but this was a fine, fighting draw and keeps survival within our own hands…

Had this performance and result been in September,
we would have been looking forward to the rest of the season. Had it been at the start of January, we would have been looking to pull well away from the drop zone and perhaps having a little cup run.

As it is, it arrives in the depths of April, five games from the end of the season and lifts us out of the relegation places on goal difference only – although you can cancel the “only” if it is that which keeps us up and sends the avian brotherhood down in three weeks’ time.

For this was a splendid performance where 13 players showed that they can follow the clear and thoughtful instructions given to them by their coaches and give a side that is in the running for a Champions League placing an uncomfortable afternoon which could have been even more uncomfortable had it not been for the huge frame of Peter Cech in the Gunners goal.

There is little doubt that Allardyce and his staff now know what their best XI and formation is. There is no room now for fiddling about, tweaking here and tinkering there. We have a good goalkeeper, a very solid back four, an energetic midfield which mixes class and industry and a forward who can score if presented with the opportunity. Add to that substitutes who fit in well and can give us a slightly different dimension and we look like a solid if unspectacular, Premier League side, heading for the lower regions of the top 10 or the higher regions of the bottom 10.

Compare that with the rag bag of a team that we had to suffer from August to the end of January. A goalkeeper who was bullied by Berahino; a back four that made a series of catastrophic errors whenever the opposition ran at them; a midfield that was lacking in urgency, brains and the ability to open up an opponent’s defence; forwards who never, ever looked like scoring.

Since then, the departure of the not very good giant Pantilimon has allowed Mannone to show that he is a good keeper. Kone has come in and has struck up an excellent partnership with Kaboul – they were so much in control in this game that I thought Giroud was going to start crying when his attempt to get a shot in was once again blocked by Kone.

Jake: 'point made not taken'
Jake: ‘point made not taken’

Both full backs are quick and get up and down the line. Yedlin improves each game that he plays and van Aanholt is always a threat. Poor Billy Jones looks like a permanent bench warmer at the moment as does John O’Shea.

In midfield we are not exciting. There is no Ozil – not a miss if his tepid performance in this game is anything to go by – or Barkley or Fabregas. What we do have is guts and commitment from Cattermole, the constant probing of M’Vila, the coolness of Kirchhoff and, in this game, an excellent 90 minute performance from Wahbi Khazri who was busy and inventive throughout.

Up front, Borini supports Defoe and when the Italian tired, Watmore came on and caused some difficulties for a pedestrian Arsenal defence. Defoe can do what he likes; he scores goals.

For sure, Arsenal had 70 per cent possession but they did very little with it. We hit the bar, forced Cech into three very good saves and, in the closing stages of the game, had Mertesacker and Koscielny rocking almost as much as Jeff Blockley was on that never to be forgotten afternoon at Hillsborough 43 years ago. Well, maybe not quite as much, but allow an old man some leeway………

Three clean sheets out of the last four spells progress. It is difficult to imagine any defence that featured Jones and Coates doing the same. The partnership between Kone and Kaboul is as strong as the Watson/Pitt one and looks almost impenetrable (we’ll forget about Jamie Vardy for a moment).

Unfortunately, we have had three clean sheets at the other end as well and as we all know, goals win matches. We don’t score enough, particularly from midfield. Cattermole hasn’t scored, neither has Kirchhoff while Khazri and M’Vila have contributed one each. This may well prove to be our undoing as both Norwich and Newcastle can share the goals out among their players. Why, even Ginger Jack scored on Saturday.

Mike Dean could have given us a penalty. From my seat it was not clear but the manager thought it was and Monsieur Salut indicated that he would have given it. I’ll take anything at the moment if it gets us out of this mess and gives Allardyce time to build on the team pattern that he has created now.

Stoke City away next week and they are going through an awful spell now that they have been written about in such glowing terms in Salut! Sunderland. We can but hope that it continues at the newly named Bet 365 Stadium.

There is hope and a feeling that we can scrape home. If we do, there needs to be some detailed analysis from supporters and professionals as to why a club that can attract a smidgeon under 46,000 for a televised game on a bitterly cold day continues to struggle year after year.

Clubs with smaller stadiums, smaller attendances and a history of winning absolutely nothing can flourish in the top flight. It is utterly ridiculous that a club like Sunderland can do nothing but mount an annual battle to stave off relegation.

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9 thoughts on “Sixer’s Arsenal Soapbox: gutsy draw but think how it might have been …”

  1. Personally I do not think it matters if we stay up or go down. Our U21 side is top of the Premier u21 in the nation. So I think we will bump straight back up. Sam Allardyce is a faithful chap, and he will bump us up to a mid table team in 2 years. No doubt,

  2. The progress made under Allardyce appears to be solid and reliable, unlike previous seasons when there’s been a mix of desperation and inspiration. Sam clearly knows what he’s doing and seems to have been able to negotiate his role and powers well with Ellis Short. IF we can stay up things look much more promising for next season. ITHICS!

  3. Despite Gooner’s fans’ despair I felt Arsenal certainly wanted to win unlike the totally apathetic Man City at the Mags on Tuesday. To be able to bring on Walcott, Welbeck and Wilshere( sounds like the famous West Indian cricketer Ws) proves what a good point it was, even if I would have loved all three.No debutants unlike Liverpool on Saturday either.

  4. The gate receipts aren’t so critical compared to the past.
    We attract some of the biggest crowds in the league – fifth biggest average, I seem to remember, but this isn’t much compared to Sky TV money.
    Quick maths: 45,000 for 20 matches at 30 pounds a ticket gives 27 million pounds yet PL teams next season get at least 100 million from Sky.

  5. Should we stay up and should Sam remain as manager I think we will be in better shape next season simply because I think that Ellis Short now realises (at least I hope he realises) that in a successful football club the playing side has to be the priority and needs people who know about the game in charge, making the decisions which affect what goes on, on the pitch. Importing a business model from another industry doesn’t work in football.

    Why weren’t we as good a team in August?

    Flawed recruitment policy for one. Advocaat was obviously not happy with the summer signings nor with some of the players that had been brought in prior to his appointment

    But also, and I don’t think we should underestimate this, a pre-season tour that may have been good for raising the club’s profile in North America and which was welcomed by our friends in NASA was not good preparation for the Premier League campaign. Trying to get players fit and working on systems in sapping temperatures, with thousands of miles of travel in between set us off on the back foot. The games against Leicester and Norwich were embarrassing. Better preparation and a point or three against The Canaries back then and we would be in a much healthier position now.

    We have to be impressed with Sam’s permanent January signings (N’Doye is just on loan) and his offloading of the expensive flotsam that drained the club’s wage budget whilst contributing little on the pitch.

    The squad’s not huge but looks like a team that should hold its own in the Premiership. Stay up – make M’Vila a priority signing, extend Yedlin’s loan and teach him how to take short throw ins, get another two or three decent players in and organise a pre-season that means we are up and running from Day 1 and we’ll be OK.

    We are in the box seat now and just need to match Norwich and Newcastle’s points total over the last four games. That ought to be achievable. Stay up we’ll be fine next year. Go down and the rebuilding will have to start again.

    • In the main I agree, however the old cynic in me worries if we will we actually be better next season? While no Sunderland fan can deny that we look much, much better than we have for some time how many times have we been here before? I thought we would kick on under MON and it never happened. Same again under Poyet. Surely big Sam is the manager to give us some stability…….? As always it’s the hope I cant stand.

      • 50+ years following Sunderland and I am cynical too. If we do stay up lot will depend on which players Sam can persuade to come up to the North East but there is no doubt that he has a brought in better players than those he has shipped out – and on similar or less money.

        Compare and contrast:

        Kone – Coates (and Vergini)
        Khazri – Buckley (and Mavrias)
        Kirchhoff – Gomez (and Bridcutt)

        Then think Matthews, Roberge etc. He’s not infallible of course and I will admit he wouldn’t have been my choice as manager but the players he brought in in January have impressed on the whole and although I’ve said it before, bringing in Harper and getting Pants off the payroll was probably crucial in allowing us to sign Kone and not break the fair play rules. Astute management.

      • Sam has always been a very astute operator in the transfer market. He showed that at Bolton in particular, but also at West Ham, where, IMO he was disrespected.

    • I agree with the bulk of what you have to say.

      I would like to add that our owner has taken far too much time on the learning curve of football ownership. I believe his heart is in the right place but someone should have advised him that he needed to surround himself with professional experienced football people within the club.

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