Pete Sixsmith was right at half time to text about Sunderland being well on top despite the fluke Fabregas goal. But maintaining our good cop/bad cop routine, he is less understanding than a certain other Salut! Sunderland writer of Arsène Wenger’s autowhinge mode …
The Wenger Whingometer usually goes to the top of the scale when the Metropolitan darlings have to visit the frozen north. Bolton, Blackburn, Stoke, Sunderland – Wenger hates them, with their gritty approach to football, their baying crowds and their pragmatic managers.
His post match interviews are a mixture of apoplexy and that superior look he can adopt, making him look like an incredibly snobbish llama.
This time, he was blaming the referee’s watch and the referee’s interpretation of yellow cards for his teams failure to take full points from a team and club who clearly do not live up to the exacting standards that the Gallic Prof has set at Ashburton Grove.
Of course, he might have said “It was a good game and Sunderland deserved their point”, or “Song was silly to get the second booking and I will speak to him about it” or even “We scored a fluke goal and missed a penalty. That’s the way football sometimes goes”.
But no, it’s not in Arsène’s makeup to do that. Blame the opposition, blame the referee, blame the climate, blame the bloody Chuckle Brothers, but never, ever, accept that the Sunderlands and Boltons of this world can give Arsenal a good game and take something off them.
Because we did give them a good game. We played the better football in the first half and had we taken one of the chances we had, we would have been level at half time with a secure base to attack them in the second half. As it was, misses by Onuoha and Bent and poor shooting by Malbranque and Henderson allowed them to build on the foundations that Fabregas’s fluke had given them early on.
Fabregas did well to challenge Ferdinand, but our defender was too slow to clear it. It’s unlikely that either Mensah or Da Silva would have allowed this to happen, and it shows, that for all his commitment and industry, Anton is still too prone to making costly errors.
Probably the best sight we could have hoped for after that was Fabregas trooping disconsolately down the tunnel. Superb player that he is, I didn’t want to see any more of him. Rosiscky, who replaced him, was to prove our saviour in the second half.
Other than the fluke, we looked solid for 45 minutes, with the impressive Bramble holding the defence together really well. Paul Wilson in today’s Observer, made an unfair jibe about Bramble, which again shows that if you give a dog a bad name, it will stick. A disappointing and unfair view of a player who has clearly washed the miserable experience he had at Newcastle out of his mind.
The midfield worked hard. Malbranque was outstanding, picking the ball up deep, bringing it forward and showing some sublime skills. He was assisted by Riveros who was always looking for the next pass or the next opposition run, a bit like a good snooker player who is always three shots ahead of his opponent. At times, the game did get away from him and he is rather one paced, but he has qualities that will serve us well as the season unfolds.
Henderson looked a better player than the much vaunted Wilshere, who was booked for one very poor challenge and continued to niggle away with little nudges and shirt pulls. He must have learnt that at Bolton last season.
Jordan was let down by his poor delivery of the ball from set pieces. It really was wretched and at least 8 corners and free kicks failed to get past the first man. He’s got to do better than this.
Elmohamady had an excellent game on the right. His heading ability is outstanding but there was nobody to pick it up. By my reckoning, he won just about every ball that was played up to him, but it is wasted if there is nobody to collect the second ball.
Bent never stops working and was once again asked to play up front on his own. Against two good central defenders it was a hard ask, but he was there, on the spot, in the final seconds, to lash home a thoroughly deserved equaliser.
The crowd were noisy and roused the players, but once again, it wasn’t a great turn out. It’s not the best time for a kick off and it was on (legitimate) TV, but Messrs Short and Quinn must wonder what they have to do to get it above 40,000. The Manchester United gate will be a good sign as to whether the Premier League bubble is in danger of bursting.
One group who did stand out in the crowd were the 25 Belgians in the North Stand. They had come to see Simon Mignolet (although it could have been Steeeed; Vermaelen is injured). They were seen by eagle eyed Joan Dawson scoffing burgers outside the ground and I imagine the pubs and clubs of Sunderland were being asked for Duvel, Leffe and Guulden Draaken beers as they celebrated yet another impressive performance by the young keeper.
On the way home I was entertained by Gooners ringing 606 to complain about Phil Dowd and then by a wonderful spat between Robbie (“I’ve played over 300 games in the Premier League, I have”) Savage and Arsenal Caller Dave, which took playground arguments to a new level – almost a “my broken leg was worse than his broken leg” at one stage. I can’t quite decide if Savage is an amusing broadcaster or a complete and utter t***. Probably the latter.
The Gunners always look a good side and even without Van Persie, Fabregas, Walcott and Vermaelen they still look like a top four team. But they haven’t got players who can bully the opposition a la Scholes and Lampard. It’s not Wenger’s style to do this now, although both Viera and Petit could and did do it. Denilson is the nearest they have got and I thought he was very impressive when he came on. Song is nowhere near clever enough to fulfill that role. None of the aforementioned players would have allowed themselves to be booked as he was.
At the end of the day, Arsenal have taken one point more than they did last year on Wearside. Then, they complained about Cana and Cattermole (with a little justification). This year we took two points less, but played better football. Funny old game, ain’t it?