Saturday morning and several hours to go before the later kickoff.
The papers are full of how wonderful Jack Wilshere is, how best he and the rest of Arsenal’s cultured but fragile elite should be protected from Premier League thugs (today’s equivalent of Keown, Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon, Petit and Vieira? ‘appy ‘arry didn’t put it quite like that, but got pretty close).
The Guardian wickedly suggested five measures the authorities might consider as a matter of urgency:
* play all games in virtual reality
* all studs to be made of sponge
* exchange possession not by tackles but by polite requests and handshakes
* pre-emptive red cards for all opponents
* each player assigned teams of bouncers
Well it might work, but you get the feeling Arsène Wenger would still protest, claiming Arsenal players now had so many advantages that they were unfairly regarded with contempt by everyone else, thus devaluing each achievement.
You cannot win with some Gunners. Praise them and you’re patronising. Share their horror at terrible injuries suffered by their players and you’re told your sympathy is unwanted. Beat them and you’re simply cheats and neanderthal bullies.
The fact remains that on their day, they’re a delight to watch for everyone except fans of their immediate opponents. And they’ve been having a few of their days of late.
As for us, there’s no Cattermole, and Cana’s gone, so we do have an even chance of finishing the game with 11 men. But how we end up this evening may depend to a large extent on how the man in my image performs.
I almost never place bets on football. But walking past the bookmaker’s shop at the end of the road, I did wonder whether to have a tenner on Darren Bent to score the first goal – and hedge it with another tenner on Arsenal to win 2-0.
Yet it is a decent test of our ambition as a club: Sunderland follow Arsenal at home with Liverpool away and Manchester United away.
There’s a Carling Cup clash at home to the Hammers between now and Anfield but it’s a tough trio of Premier games. Last season, the three corresponding fixtures brought us just three points. We theoretically have a much stronger squad now, so some improvement on that tally, while a tall order, is not an unreasonable one to place.
Tonight would be a great time to start, not least because in the same match under a year ago, Bent did score, not only first but with the only goal of a game in which we competed at every level, skill included, with Arsenal.
And if you’re travelling to the game, and are making your first visit to Salut! Sunderland this week, you may find either of the following previews interesting: