Monsieur Salut is an unashamed admirer of Arsène Wenger’s. But Eric Sweeney, an occasional additional voice at Salut! Sunderland, combines appreciation for the job Martin O’Neill is doing at Sunderland with serious misgivings about yesterday’s once-mighty opposition …
Sunderland continued to make massive strides forward under Martin O’Neill with a well deserved victory over Arsenal.
It is fair to say the opposition were below par and are not the force they once were but the victory was testament to old sporting virtues such as hard work and determination.
The tactics employed by O’Neill worked spendidly again, the slight tweak being to employ a three-man central midfield with Campbell sacrificed in attack: a move perhaps inspired by Milan’s effectiveness in midweek.
That trio in the middle was key to victory in a dogged performance.
Arsenal where forced out wide where they were ineffective’ I can’t remember a single time our full backs were beaten all game.
O’Neill set the team up to play largely inside their own half, the players sitting off the opposition giving about 10 yards but quickly pressing once they gained possession, forcing Arsenal back time and time again.
The wingers chipped in to dealt comfortably with advances out wide and Arsenal, for all their possession, posed little or no threat to our solid back four.
What must be a frustration for the newly suffering Arsenal fan is their slow and pointless passing.
It reminded me a lot of West Brom under Tony Mowbray, most of it happening sideways or backwards, lacking in tempo or penetration and invariable ending up with an aimless long ball that was easily dealt with. The scoreline didn’t lie, the better team did win this game.
It is incredible to think this is the same Sunderland squad of players under which Bruce struggled to keep out of the bottom three.
Central to its success is playing to the players strengths and realising the limitations of the squad, hence the counter offensive game. I couldn’t help but wonder what effect O’Neill would have on this Arsenal squad and how would he set them up for games? It may be considered harsh but the similarities between Arsène now and Bruce then are evident.
They are one dimensional and lacking in confidence and conviction. It seems they are playing a type of game not suited to their level of talent.
I’m sure O’Neill would set them up similar to the current Sunderland setup, tighten the space between the back four and midfield and counter attack. I do apologise for commenting so extensively on Arsenal but it really is interesting to see the decline of a once great football team.
My man of the match award goes to Jack Colback; he was superb in midfield.Yet this was the toughest of decisions to make, such was the strength of the team performance.
Larsson and McClean’s workrate is so impressive that they would be worth having on the park even if they couldn’t deliver going forward.
Nothing came through the middle with Cattermole, Gardner and Colback working well as a unit. I was surprised with how well Sess did up front on his own given his short stature and our direct approach but he was remarkable once more and is proving his worth as a forward more than a winger as I once thought would be more suitable position for him.
He was helped, however, by the lamentable performances of the Arsenal defenders, who kept misjudging the ball flight in windy conditions. Sess was able to take the ball down perfectly, so questions must be asked about the quality of the Arsenal back four. In contrast, O’Shea put in what was arguably his best performance of the season for Sunderland.
I must say I am really excited about the prospect of going to Wembley. We have a realistic chance now to go and win a trophy for the first time since 1973.
There is no doubt that it wouldn’t have been possible without a change of manager. The impact he has had since taking over has certainly inspired others to do likewise with Warnock and now McCarthy departing. It is unlikely however that anyone else will repeat the impact that O’Neill has had on Sunderland (unless Arsenal poached him – ed?).