So, Guess the Score is again a prize edition and again there’s a catch. Only a correct entry predicting a winning scoreline for Sunderland qualifies; it must be the first to be posted before kickoff to claim the prize. Since the cost would be borne by Monsieur Salut, and he supports Sunderland and we need the points, that can be seen as rough justice but justice all the same. And as the prize is only a mug, it hardly matters anyway …
Football can really be quite simple. If Newcastle United can play like men unaccustomed to the sport for most of the season and then come close to beating a top four team, albeit one that barely bothered to turn up despite bringing its own linesman, Sunderland – having been quicker to overcome the same malaise – must go one better.
But at the very least we have to avoid defeat against Arsenal on Sunday.
It will be tough and the Gunners will doubtless start favourites in most neutrals’ minds despite their own less than convincing season. They also have recent history on their side.
The head-to-head stats show 30 SAFC home wins, 19 Arsenal wins and 22 draws. The wins all preceded the 2012 FA Cup tie (2-0 to us), which itself came a week after a home defeat in the Premier and has been followed by three Arsenal away victories.
Our only Premier League home wins against them have been in 2009, 2000 and 1997, all by 1-0.
Before checking, I am going to say the winners in those games come from a Tony Adams or Steve Bould own goal, Niall Quinn and Darren Bent. Now I have checked, I see I was right (more or less, since I did hedge my bet on the own goal which was scored by Adams in a game that also saw Dennis Bergkamp sent off for what one Gooner fan site conceded was “a bad lunge at Paul Stewart”, though the victim was actually Paul Bracewell).
The Quinn game was an odd one in which we took our one chance and somehow stopped Arsenal scoring any of the thousands they had. There was another Arsenal sending off, Patrick Vieira for striking Darren Williams.
As we clung to our lead, the more infuriating East Stand supporters started to leave to make sure they would not be stuck in traffic for heaven’s sake. Forgive me for repeating the classic observation of the friend to my right: “How can they? It’s like leaving a Shakespearian tragedy.”
Did they also leave early in 1953, when Sunderland trounced the Gunners 7-1, the biggest win in all competitive meetings between the two sides?
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more,” Arsene Wenger said as almost 60,000 fans headed home. “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Or did he say something else? Maybe along the lines of “it was very harsh to lose the game because Sunderland did not create a lot”.
In fact, he was born too late to have much of a view of the game at all, being a few weeks short of his fourth birthday.
The actual Arsenal rationale for the 1953 thumping came in an Arsenal blog blaming it, in part, on the illegally high wages Sunderland had offered Ray Daniel to switch from Highbury to Roker Park (which seems an odd explanation when you remember he was a centre-half and we won because such giants as Shack and, three times, Trevor Ford kept hitting the back of the net).
The second quote was Wenger’s though, after the 2009 game.
We’ve no Bent now, but we do have the razor-sharp Jermain Defoe. Avoiding the dread four-letter H word, let us rather trust him to ensure this version of our Shakespearian encounters with Arsenal has a happy ending for us, leaving Wenger bemoaning a “harsh” defeat if he must.
* So have a go at guessing the score. No one won Guess the Score for the Norwich game, though all but one or two entries loyally forecasted a Sunderland win. Usual rules apply. The mug goes to a UK delivery address nominated by the first reader to post the correct scoreline, which must – given our precarious situation – be a Sunderland victory. Arsenal fans are welcome to chip in either for fun or in the belief their side will lose; such a winner would win an Arsenal-themed mug.
And Ha’way the Lads.
* Come back tomorrow for a great ‘Who are You?’ read from Nick Birch – Arsenal supporter, Defoe fan, grudging Sam admirer.
Salut! Sunderland: Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Nick: I will be at the game and I’ll say Arsenal will win 3-1 but this probably means Sunderland will win 1-0.