So this weekend sees in-form Arsenal against a Sunderland team that seem to be gelling into a powerful and effective unit. We have often heard that the Gunners do less well against the physical meat and potato teams of the North, as Bolton were called when Allardyce was their boss a couple of years back. And that ongoing spat, handbags at 5 yards, between Big Sam and the more urbane Arsene Wenger this week helps to add spice to the Premiership. Blackburn definitely have meat and potatoes tendencies, unlike Sunderland.
But we are not here to discuss Lancashire teams, this is a clash between the Lads and an Arsenal side who won 6-0 in midweek, playing the way that Wenger wants and demands. There was even a star performance from Wilshere, a Brit! I have previously bemoaned the lack of English players in the Arsenal side, and the fact that Wenger seems to feel that the proximity of the Emirates to the Channel Tunnel is the key factor behind Arsenal’s “success”. But we are also talking several barren years without trophies; nice football without a cutting edge may lead to a lot of plaudits, but in years to come, what will people actually remember? Nice one-twos and passing, like we saw in the midweek Champion’s League win, or trophies?
Last season Sunderland pulled off a 1-0 win over Arsenal without having to play that well, but they put in the sort of effective, focused home performance that also saw off Spurs, Liverpool and Birmingham, for example. Sunderland this season has emerged as a more cultured team, with several players that are very comfortable on the ball, such as Al Muhammadi and the rapidly improving Jordan Henderson. And who can not be inspired by the upfront pairing of Darren Bent, now recovered from his North London nightmare, and the charismatic Asmoah Gyan, who started so stunningly last week.
So I am going for a home win, 2-1, with a sellout crowd. And when Arsenal concede the inevitable penalty or decisive free-kick at the edge of the box, Arsene will avoid any talk about the preceding foul, saying “I did not see it”! Some things do not change.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen