Anti-football? The point made at Arsenal has Chelsea precedent

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Television pundits and not a few Arsenal supporters whinge about Sunderland “parking the bus”.



Arsene Wenger
– admired by this writer at almost all times except whenever Arsenal have just played Sunderland – makes a Freudian slip, calling us Leicester. Or was it on purpose?

And the LondonCentric – OK also MancCentric – world of football wonders why the likes of SAFC don’t simply do their duty, roll over and accept resounding defeat in recognition of the elegant skills amassed against them.

Par for the course whenever a team outside the top six, or whatever number it now is, comes up against one of those within the blessed circle. At least nothing happened at the Emirates yesterday to warrant a hint of any accusation of clogging.

But is defending in search of at least a point, when confronted by self-evidently superior opponents, really anti-football?

The same Londoncentrics who’d cry Yes to that question also eulogised, unless fervently anti-Chelsea, the “heroic” resistance – ie very similar tactics – used during the last stages, versus Barcelona and Bayern, of a commendable Champions League victory. Where, essentially, is the difference?



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I long to see
Sunderland play aggressive, flowing football that leads to goals and excitement.

The pride I take in yesterday’s gutsy but also well-drilled performance is tempered by the desire to see us score a goal before Pussy Riot are freed.

Late in the second half, Nicky Barnes – excellent as ever with Gary Bennett in the BBC Radio Newcastle commentary (so much more civilised that relying solely on the flickering, stuttering, incomprehensible and delayed internet stream) – said we were advancing on the Arsenal goal for the first time since the 11th minute. I don’t want to see or hear that.

But this was Sunderland in mid-August 2012, with limited firepower, up against a club that currently cannot quite compete at Citeh/United/Chelsea/PSG levels but still managed to bring in three exceptional players – Lukas Podolski (£11m), Olivier Giroud (£13m) and Santi Cazorla (£20m) – while losing the superb RVP.

Maybe by the time the transfer deadline falls, SAFC will have added two or three quality signings. Maybe it will become more rational to compare us with Arsenal, Chelsea, the Manchesters etc.

The Premier League is rightly seen internationally as invigorating, passionate and massively watchable. But it takes a Sunderland, as well as a Swansea, to remind us that it is all of those things, because not despite of the fact there are teams unable to compete for the title that refuse all the same to accept a role of kowtowing to the elite.

Monsieur Salut, by Matt
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35 thoughts on “Anti-football? The point made at Arsenal has Chelsea precedent”

  1. You all seem to miss the point , from a football perspective . ” You could have won ” The Arsenal were there for the taking even with the new signings that hardly knew each other. The first half hour we were missing passes players didn’t know where to run for others , the two full backs showed their inexperience by getting caught out of position. I just repeat you could have won and had you tried to attack you probably would have.

    • Potter, that is exactly right. However a point is what Sunderland got which was their sole ambition. They can try to justify it how they like but to watch that week in week out would drive anyone to distraction but hey ho let’s really enjoy hard work negative tactics and time wasting that’s what we all go to watch football for isn’t it?

  2. Apologies to the Arsenal contingent who thought we were just fish turning up to be shot at in their particular barrel. We came for a point and deservedly got it. If you are mourning the demise of entertainment take some responsibility for its passing, the responsibility of those who formed the cartel which is the Premier League, and of which Arsenal PLC were/are delighted to be part.

    So your posh noses are out of joint. Do you think we care?

  3. We worked our b*llocks off. If that isn’t ‘trying’ I don’t know what is. Your definition of ‘trying’ is playing open football so that you and your Grandson can enjoy watching Arsenal spank a team with lower capabilities. How inconsiderate of our club who have a duty to our fans and professionalism to get something from a football match.

    A better suggestion would be passing down knowledge onto a younger generation of how football really works and how to appreciate teamwork and skill that appear in more than one form. I don’t know why people bother going to the games with a young child mentality of thinking goal after goal after goal is the only outcome.

  4. The point is Gordy and it seems to me to have been made time and again that we are a weakened side who have lost our most prolific goals scorers. We have had glaring gaps both in our defense, on the wing and in the center where we are desperate for a 20 goals a season striker. Until that is rectified it would be insanity to try to play expensive football away from home. At the end of last season our team had been so decimated we were almost reduced to playing the kids against seasoned players like VP.

    We just about held on. Mon does not insist on negative play when he has attackers available but he does believe that if the opposition can’t score they cannot beat you. We played some cracking games last season, often out playing far better ranked teams and I am sure that we will again if we actually spend some money before the close season.

    Perhaps if you are on the receiving end next time you will get lots of fun out of the game.

    • Alan I have seen our team beaten many times by sides with less talent than Sunderland I don’t pretend that I enjoy the experience but such is life. I took my Grandson on Saturday who was so excited to be going to the 1st match of the season, by 15 mins into the 2nd half he had had enough. A good introduction to football. It costs a lot of money to go to a game these days so I do think that clubs have a duty to at least try.

  5. This was the first game after a frustrating close season with only two free agents signing and upteen players leaving, not to mention an injury list that stretched the remaining squad to its limits. The fact our best player had missed all the pre season with an ankle injury can hardly have encouraged the manager to adopt a gung ho approach. I’ll accept the Arsenal supporters’ views regarding MON’s tactics if that is all we see between now and Christmas, although if there are no additions to the squad and we are top half I’ll settle for that. But I am sure that the manager will set his team up to meet the demands that will be posed by different teams in different ways.

    Reading next – I expect a different approach.

  6. Apologies to all Sunderland fans, I don’t want to denigrate your club as I feel you are one of the top echelon of the Premier League however I am disappointed in the way you play under MON.

  7. With parting shots wishing us good luck with playing that way. As if that is to be our game plan against everybody. Wasn’t dull to me. Maybe cos I’m a defender and can appreciate achievement that doesn’t present itself in the form of nutmegging a player several times. I realised a lot of the Arsenal fans have acknowledged our efforts. Fair enough. If my comment clearly wasn’t intended for certain people then they shouldn’t f feel the need to respond to it.

  8. How some of the Arsenal faithful must have wished that our incomplete and limited side should have taken to the field and had a real go from start to finish. Forget about tactics and game plans, don’t worry about leaving all the holes for Arsenal’s world class players to exploit. It’s all about entertainment, right?

    We should have played attacking and open football, then when the inevitable four goal reverse manifested itself at least the Arsenal fans could have patronised us and praised us for our efforts. Zero points but a good old metaphorical pat on the back eh?

    How very unoriginal and tedious that the Olympics gets a mention. There is no tactics really possible in a 100metre sprint, or in a high jump, at least not in the sense where you can try and prevent your opponent from achieving their maximum potential. One thing that makes football better than any other sport in the world is the multiple amount of tactical variations and methodologies implemented.. To bemoan a team playing to their capabilities, to refuse to play into their opposition’s hands, is illogical, small minded and bitter. Defending is an art.

    We have Morcambe at home in the League Cup. I hope they come and try to play open, attacking football. Then after our win I can turn to my acquaintances and say ‘ah bless them. At least they tried to play football’. It will be very rude if they come up and take us to penalties by defending. How dare they.

    • Goldy…if you look at pretty much all of the replies from Arsenal fans above, most of us have acknowleded that you did what you had to do and deserved your point.

      Doesn’t make it any more palatable or less frustating, though, does it? Dress it up to justify it all you like…it was still very dull.

  9. Was there yesterday and felt you defended brilliantly. You do what you’ve got to do. There were one or two fantastic last ditch tackles from your boys yesterday and your keeper had to make one great save (from Cazorla). My main point is that you did enough to earn a point and deserved it. Remember I said that…lol…

    Doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating, boring and crap to watch, does it? Hate the fact that I spend £1000 on a season ticket to have 15 of the PL teams we face do the same thing. That includes Man City who always shut the gates instead of trying to play us. You’re a team that can, and has, beaten us in recent memory without resorting to what we’ve grown to call “the same old, same old” but were completely…TOTALLY…unambitious.

    As I say…you do what you have to do. But don’t dress it up as normal, right, interesting or entertaining. It’s dull as dishwater…but it’s more our problem than yours…enjoy your point…sure you’ll get others without resorting to such tactics this season…

    • Spot on about Man City at the emirates, even in the carling cup last season they played that dour Italian defensive game despite the trillions on quality players.

  10. Arse fan here.

    Comparing your performance to Chelski’s spawny CL win is an insult to your team. You denied us chances as has been pointed out, Chelski had the luck of the devil in not conceding with 30 odd shots on goal in each of their games.

    Dull, dull day for the Arsenal, great day for you.

    The only bright spot was that we were happier with the result in the other half of the North East v North London games. 🙂

    • “The only bright spot was that we were happier with the result in the other half of the North East v North London games.”

      Every silver lining has a cloud! 🙁

  11. Good article, Salut Sunderland, obviously a quality blog site, and as bias gooner with rose tinted spectacles that’s a lot coming from me! I think “we, me” sums it up, I was at the game yesterday, and most gooners I talked to didn’t mention anything about Sunderland’s performance/game plan etc, you worked extremely hard were regimented and deserved a point in this regard. We were obviously more concerned with our inability to break you down and the fact that we didn’t manage to create that many numerous clear cut chances, even though we did dominate the game.

    Accepted, many gooners are not too fond of O’Neill and the way his teams set up to play at times, but I don’t think there is any real vitriol there as opposed to Pulis’s Stoke (who’s tatics I believe every other club’s fans in the Premiership must be appalled by, basically rugby or “rollerball”)

    This is a good site, I’ve enjoyed the respectful comments made by replying Arsenal fans, and enjoyed the article itself, particularly the bit about the radio commentary and “I don’t want to hear that”, class.

    It was a bit of an anti-climax for us Arsenal fans yesterday, long way to travel for the Sunderland fans (one of the best away followings in the country, could you imagine it if you were challenging for top four each season), but the ones I chatted to around the boozers in Finsbury Park were in good spirits and some good anti-Newcastle banter flying around (which is always a bonus in my book!).

    Good luck for rest of season (you have to sign a couple of strikers, but I am sure you know that!). Top site.

    Respects Flashman71

  12. I would not call Sunderlands display antifootball, dull maybe, unabititous possibly. What I did see was a resoulute and well organised defence that achieved a well earned point. I dont think you can compare the Chelski lucky win of Europes biggest prize as Sunderlands squad did not cost a billion quid to aquire. Also, you survived just one clear cut opportunity throughout the game yesterday whilst Chelsea had to survive a whole host of chances, particularly during the semi final. Never the less, you had an honest game plan that with just a little luck worked, had we managed to score it would have been interesting to see how you changed your game plan.
    Good luck with the rest of the season (appart from our return visit of course).

    • Had you scored we wouldn’t have had another game plan because at this moment in time we do not have the quality to play more openly. I’m sure that will change within the next two weeks.

      We’ve lost both Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan in recent seasons, now is the time to replace them.

  13. “I long to see Sunderland play aggressive, flowing football that leads to goals and excitement.”… maybe your team should give it a go then? After a summer of being inspired by Olympians with a go-for-it attitude and praising the umpires for throwing out some badmington players for not trying to win the game for reasons of the good of sport, its just a little annoying knowing you have to put with teams who praise themselves for shutting games out and call it a tremendous a defensive display when we can all see it for what it is… sportsmen who are to scared to try and win. But then again Im from London and support Arsenal so my view on this couldn’t possibly be valid and should be quickly pigeon-holed under wingeing gooner.

    • Your view is entirely valid as well as being that of a whingeing gooner.

      But yes, seriously, you have a point, and if I did not believe that O’Neill slow rebuilding would lead to more examples of SAFC “giving it a go”, I would despair. For all that, a good defensive display has its own merits – not least of them the act of stopping better players break them down.

    • Had we gone out and spent over £20m on two strikers perhaps we would have shown more ambition and attacked you more. We have spent £0 in the close season. I think you need to put things into perspective and consider it from another point of view instead of simply thinking about yourself and Arsenal. We don’t care about Arsenal and an away point is a point well earned for us.

      Would we have been happier had we played an open game and finished the game losing 4-0? No we wouldn’t. I would have thought an intelligent person could have understood this.

      • Yes we spent that amount on players but we are still in the black, so that is no reason to play so negatively.

  14. I just want to know what happened to the recognition of defending being an absolutely crucial part of the game; and wasn’t it Arsenal who built a championship winning side on the back of a sound defence? ‘1-0 to the Arsenal!’ I seem to remember Gooners taking a certain pride in singing. Don’t some supporters have short memories?
    Ultimately it was a point we deserved and Arsenal actually caused us very few moments of real concern because of a sound tactical plan and hard work; elements of football as important as any other, though maybe not as ‘media-friendly’.

    • You seem to forget it was 1-0 to the Arsenal, point being the 1. I did take pride in the defending we did then but it was never the way you played yesterday. The 1-0 to the Arse bit was rarely 1-0 during that period either, that song was a carry on song from the ECWC game against Parma. I also agree with you that you had a tactical plan and worked hard but can’t you see the fact of football played like this is detrimental to the game. Enjoy the result if you must but you can’t really enjoy watching that can you?

      • How pathetic! Detrimental to the game? Are we talking about the same game here? The game in which the club with the most money generally wins and there is not level playing field whatsoever? We celebrated our point as a point well earned yesterday. You’re bitter because you dropped two.

        Learn to be gratious in defeat. We do not play like that on a weekly basis. I suggest you think about what you write in future and consider why sides setup like this when they play at the Emirates.

      • Apologies Bill if I seem ungracious in defeat but that is not the case as we didn’t lose but I do not think this style of play does your team no favours. You have beaten the top teams in your time by playing good football. I do not understand in any circumstances how you can enjoy watching football played this way. Try to understand without the tribal defensiveness that football should be played to win. Your team,yesterday did not want to play to win just negate.

  15. A team with some disarray , having lost their captain and with another regular first teamer leaving, 2 inexperienced full backs , three new signings needing to gel, a number of first team injuries. That’s what you faced , Plead your case as being a smaller club as much as you like but you could have won with a bit of ambition . However that’s not O’Neill’s style. he sees crossing the half way line as a result. It was totally predictable his teams at Leicester , Villa etc were equally boring. He calls it pragmatic , I think it’s sad.

    • I refer the honourable gentleman to my reply above. Sunderland is a slightly smaller club, historically, than Arsenal, but has always been capable of playing with ambition. Whereas your departures and disarray are annoying but leave you with an astonishing choice of international talent, and no trace of difficulty in persuading targets on the joys of moving the London, we struggle to field a team with a truly creative midfielder and proven striker.
      SAFC 2 Arsenal 0, Chelsea 0 SAFC 3, Man City 3 SAFC 3 will continue to happen from time to time but even those results will start from an initially cautious game plan.

    • You’re talking rubbish and for all your weak exuses we’ve only managed to bring in two free transfers thus far. We’re still negotiating with our main targets.

      I take it you’re another bitter Villa fan? How did you get on yesterday?

  16. As a Gooner who has paid to see a football match I find this type of football both frustrating and disillusioning. I don’t go to matches very often these days and having to watch a team who’s only intention is to stop the other team scoring with no ambition to score themselves totally boring. This is not an anti Sunderland dig but more to do with managers who have no ambitions to play decent football. Why not try to win a match or draw one with goals being scored? I feel sorry for fans of clubs who play this way, I couldn’t imagine having to pay to watch this every week. For those who travel long distances i.e. your support yesterday could you not give them some thing to cheer about?

    • Man City 3 Sunderland 3 is a good example of what you want and yes, we should have won that game. But the least disruption to a lesser team’s preparations, or the least doubt on the manager’s part, often makes a back-to-the-wall strategy inevitable.

    • But it doesn’t happen every week and you’re coming across very naive and extremely arrogant. There are a number of teams in the league that simply cannot compete with the top sides. Therefore away from home it is often better to shut up shop with the aim of earning a point. Had we played an open game yesterday and tried to attack you then we would have lost. It would have made your day enjoyable but it would not have done us any favours. We couldn’t care less if it’s not entertaining to watch as long as it is effective.

      We still haven’t managed to complete our dealings in the transfer market. So I’m sure things will change once we bring in more attack minded players.

      By the way, we do not play like this on a weekly basis. Only away from home against the better sides.

    • When our club starts spending similar amounts on transfer fees and wages, then maybe we can start trying to win games against the top 6 away from home. Until then, we have little choice but to be happy with a draw. And of course, we’re not paying to see this every week. At home our tactics are different, and we’re not always playing teams who are out of our league – in spirit if not in reality

  17. Me thinks you’re reaching a wee bit there mate. Most Arsenal fans thought you earned your point yesterday through astute tactics and resolute defending , nothing wrong with that all. In fact, just about every Gooner felt that the onus was on us to to break you down, something we seem ill at ease with since the days of …well, forever. Wenger didn’t seem to have a problem with your tactics yesterday.

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