Forget Louise Taylor, good as she is. Put the reports from the two Echos and Journal to one side. This is the essential post-match read. Pete Sixsmith looks back with relish on a grand day out, leaving us unbeaten in the Smoke after visits to Tottenham, Chelsea, Fulham and Arsenal – and brings you a David Miliband scooplet …
That’s better. Everything we didn’t do at the crumbling ruin known as Goodison Park last week, we did at the ultra-modern Ashburton Grove this week.
Last week, we were disorganised and disappointing. On Saturday, for the full 94 minutes, our players kept their shape, remained focused and took a deserved point off a team with a genuine chance of winning the League title, the Champions League and the FA Cup.
We got a break when the assistant referee put his flag up a split second too early and, wrongly, gave Arshavin offside. But who is to say that Arshavin would have scored had the flag not gone up? Mignolet pulled out of his challenge because he knew that the whistle had gone. The kind of game that the young Belgian was having suggested that he would have comfortably dispossessed the Arsenal player.
He was outstanding, not just because he pulled off several brilliant saves but also because of the calm way that he organised his defenders and ran his box. Were I Craig Gordon’s agent, I would be looking at the possibility of alternatives for next season.
He wasn’t the only youngster who played well. I thought Jordan Henderson had a tremendous game. He ran, harried, tackled, passed and carried the ball as if his life depended on it. On MOTD, when Alan Hansen highlighted our successful pursuit of Arsenal, Jordan was there, looking to win the ball or prevent the Arsenal player from wriggling away with it.
It was his great run and pass that created the opening for the impressive Sessegnon, one of two very good chances that we created against a side who, rightly, regard themselves as one of the top teams in Europe.
I thought every player was brave and committed and it is clear that words have been said after last weeks little disaster. Mensah and Bramble stayed on their feet, Ferdinand concentrated throughout, while Muntari looked an Arsenal player as he picked up the ball from the back four and laid it off to an ever willing Malbranque, Sessegnon or Henderson.
Up front, Gyan hunted for scraps and never allowed the two Arsenal centre backs to settle and to knock the ball around. When he went off near the end, he was clearly exhausted.
The real plus point of the game was the return of Danny Welbeck after his injury. I imagine Alex Ferguson has spent time whispering in his ear, saying “go and get the winner against the Gunners” And he very nearly did, with a marvellous turn and shot that forced Szczeseny to make the save of the match.
As well as a good result and a good performance, it was a good day out. The coach was no more than half full due to weekend breaks being booked and Mr Horan and I were allocated the back seat, which meant we could stretch our legs out, listen to Sounds Of The Sixties, read the paper and carve a statue of Niall Quinn out of blocks of marble.
The Lamb’s splendid Young’s Bitter was on top form and it was good to see the Wood Brothers shaking off the previous nights excesses with such ease and obvious pleasure. We strolled round to Russell Square station with them, boarded the tube to Arsenal – and shared a carriage with the Sunderland vice chairman.
David Miliband made eye contact, spoke and then put down his paper (The Independent, I think) and joined us as the train rattled along the Piccadilly Line. He was fulsome in his praise for SNQ and Ellis Short – probably because one of them had picked up the tab in an Italian restaurant the previous night – and he said next season was the big one and that plans were afoot for the summer that would be very, very interesting.
If he were still an Arsenal fan, he would probably be worried about the disappointing performance his team turned in. No doubt Monty and Rupert, the Ant and Dec of The Emirates, were chuntering into their Pimms post match about the inadequacies of Arshavin (looked disinterested), Bendtner (big bugger, but thinks too slowly) and Wilshere (talented, but spends too much time moaning at referees).
I wish them well in the Nou Camp, but I think it could all end in tears for them and for Arsène Wenger, who actually made a complimentary remark about Sunderland (is this a first – ed? ) before expressing disgust at the referee. I thought Anthony Taylor had a good game and handled the players well.
So, another week off before Liverpool pitch up at the Stadium, fresh from hammering Manchester United. That’s good news for Wenger and the Arsenal fans, who were as quiet and well mannered as they usually are. Lovely stadium but lacking in passion and noise. Maybe Monty and Rupert and their chums haven’t got that bit yet.