While most of the near 45,000 attendance at the Stadium of Light saw a match that Sunderland won, Radio 5 Live and MoTD reported on a match that Arsenal lost. Pete Sixsmith redresses the balance …
The highlights and the stats on Match of the Day did this superb game a disservice. The editing made it look a decent game with Sunderland winning with a well taken but slightly fortuitous goal. The stats suggested that Arsenal had most of the possession and more of the chances – which just goes to prove that there are lies, damn lies and statistics as Disraeli, Burke or Twain (Rochdale’s all conquering half back line of the early 50s) are alleged to have said.
This was no flukey 1-0 win à la 2000 when Arsène’s Arsenal battered us and Saint Niall nicked it at the end. It wasn’t down to a deflection off a piece of beach orientated play equipment. It was down to a hugely committed and thoughtful performance from 14 players who had spent the training sessions listening to Messrs Bruce and Black, then going out and putting into practice what they had learned.
The word “committed” is often a euphemism for clogging and roughing up. Not yesterday. In the past, we have given Wenger cause to complain about our “commitment” (Dan Smith’s ankle breaking tackle on Diabe a few years ago springs to mind), but yesterday it was commitment of the highest order.
The Gunners weaved pretty patterns, and at times the movement on and off the ball was breathtaking. But every time they looked for the killer pass or the killer finish, there was a Paraguayan or an Albanian or a Ghanaian or a lad from Farringdon there to intercept or put in a tackle.
The tackling and the harassing was outstanding. Jordan Henderson typified it. He was given the job of marking Cesc Fabregas, possibly the outstanding midfield performer in the Premier League. Fabregas had a good game. But the fact that he did not have an outstanding game was down to Henderson. He chased him, closed him down and tackled him for 90 minutes. What he did not do was kick him, foul him, pull his shirt and give away cheap free kicks. He was disciplined and committed, as he had been told to be by the management team.
When he wasn’t tracking one of Spain’s finest, he was winning a tussle with his contemporary, Aaron Ramsey. He is spoken of in revered tones by the metropolitan based press while Henderson has barely appeared on their radar. That may change.
Jordan had a fine game, but there were three who were even finer. How many more times will commentators use the words “Cana was immense”?. His passing, tackling and above all his interceptions, particularly in the second half, broke Arsenal. For all their pretty patterns, they don’t have anyone quite like him, someone to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and inspire players. Young Henderson must be learning so much from him.
Cana is a mixture of Jimmy McNab, Tony Towers and Joe Bolton with a smidgeon of Ian Porterfield thrown in. So far, he is the signing of the year in the Premier League. We paid for him by selling Dean Whitehead and Danny Collins.
And what a captain!! A veteran supporter opined in the buzz of the Gents after the game, that he had never seen a leader quite like him in all the years of watching Sunderland. He would have 20 years on me, but I agreed. When I look at some of the skippers of recent years, Whitehead, Robinson, Breen, you can see what has been missing. He leads by example and is always encouraging, although I would imagine there is some fierce criticism when needed. It would take a brave man to argue back.
Darren Bent was tremendous. His work rate was phenomenal. I would imagine he covers more ground in one game than Djibril did in the whole of last season. He is a real predator. Look how quickly he responded to that rebound off Campbell’s legs; that is a genuine goalscorer. In the 86th minute, when he had run Gallas into the corner, he stood in the centre circle, hands on hips, sucking in huge lung fulls of air before he got back to defend a corner.
And finally, we come to Paolo Da Silva. The man in the Gents who praised Cana also stated that he was supporting Paraguay in the World Cup. This was met with a chorus of “Aye, me too” from those looking at their shoes and is a fine tribute to a man who was absolutely brilliant yesterday. He reads the game so well, makes tackles at exactly the right time, times his headers perfectly and does not waste a ball. Were he a London / Manchester/ Liverpool based player, the press corps would be raving about him. Like Northumberland’s beaches, Jesmona Black Bullets and Godfrey Card’s sausages, let’s hope he remains a well kept secret, savoured by the locals and not shared with the great unwashed who are not Sunderland fans.
Cana and Da Silva are a real tribute to the scouting networks that Bruce and Black had in situ before they joined us. Bent is a tribute to Messrs Quinn and Short who were prepared to speculate and pay an awful lot of money for a player who was struggling at Spurs. Henderson is a tribute to the coaching staff who have given a young player the opportunity to show what he can do. Meyler, Reed and Noble are also great prospects. Under this management team, they may get a chance to shine.
Am I happy? You bet I am. On Saturday night I watched a friend performing in her excellent band Hot Flush at a WMC in Darlington. As they performed a splendid version of Simply The Best, visions of Cana, Bent, Henderson and Da Silva flashed through my mind and a smile appeared on my face at frequent intervals in the show, not only at Debra and Joanie’s banter but also at the face Arsene was pulling on the coach home as he wondered why he had rejected Cana. Hee, hee.