Grant Tunkel is one of the ever increasing band of Salut! Sunderland contributors who follow the club from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Another in fact, to whom a day out at the seaside means a plodge in blue Pacific waters, rather than the grey of the North Sea. But like Sunderland fans from Seaburn to Sydney, today’s performance leaves him distinctly underwhelmed.
Early in the second half, the question was posed to me: “So Grant, what did you expect from this Arsenal game?”
I answered: “To at least show up.”
A win was highly unlikely, and a draw was probably the best-case scenario. If Sunderland was to lose, perhaps a one- or two-goal defeat would be tolerable. (After all, goal differential could become a major factor in the fight to avoid relegation.)
But to not even get off the bus Saturday in north London — did the Black Cats even board it on Wearside? — was unexpected and disconcerting.
Yes, there’s a clear talent gap between the two sides, which was apparent in the first 45 minutes at The Emirates. But Sunderland had an opportunity to play the role of battling underdog and try to play a physical, cohesive style.
Instead, they looked scared.
There’s no need to replay all four goals against, but the second and fourth tallies were case-in-point moments. Santiago Vergini, whom I was excited to see in a starting role, made a terrible pass to free Olivier Giroud for a 2-0 lead.
In the second half, Vergini whiffed on an otherwise uncontested clearance. On the ensuing corner, Laurent Koscielny roamed free for an easy header and the Gunners’ fourth goal.
If not for Emmanuelle Giaccherini’s second-half strike, the score would be a total mess. Instead, it was just a partial one.
The Black Cats’ defending and tackling was hesitant. Their possession looked rattled. Again, it’s unreasonable to expect a bottom-of-the-table side to hang with a Champions League contender away from home. But to play scared, that’s another story.
This Sunderland team looked nothing like the one that went into Old Trafford and won on penalties, nor the one that routed Newcastle away. The confident style of play was missing Saturday. Perhaps the Cats’ confidence was stuck on the team bus, too.
So now it’s time to rally the troops. Sunderland have suffered a disconcerting loss to Hull City and a dismantling by Arsenal in consecutive league games. Adam Johnson and Jozy Altidore have been nonexistent. The back line has been shaky (not Vito Mannone, though.)
Gus Poyet has his work cut out for him. But I’ve been championing the motto, “In Gus We Trust.” With Wembley waiting and the drop zone beckoning, Sunderland and its supporters must trust Gus now more than ever. He has to make sure, at the very least, his team gets off the bus for it’s remaining matches.
Grant Tunkel: I’m a play-by-play broadcaster and multimedia journalist. As a broadcaster, I have called games for seven years at the professional and collegiate levels. As a journalist, I’ve covered stories ranging from the hiring of Lane Kiffin as the head football coach at the University of Southern California to the appointment of Jose Gomez as Archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Sunderland is my adopted team. My website is GrantTunkel.com.
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