It's the word "offensive" ... which used to mean swearing at people in a loud voice, generally being rude or throwing inappropriate stuff at people. Arsene Wenger came to the UK to manage Arsenal in 1996 and has been a success…in persuading us to change the way we speak. He started using the word "offensive play" to describe attacking football.
And this weekend I heard Alan Pardew saying after Newcastle's 0-5 defeat to Spurs that he should have set up his side to be less "offensive". OK, he is not a Geordie, and therefore not naturally offensive, unlike the people I had to go to school with north of the Tyne…only joking, my old school friends (!)
So a Frenchman has changed the way we speak on our "Sceptred Isle". He has also shown that one can run a football club without getting out the chequebook twice a year. He acquires young players, they learn to do things his way, and then he gradually bloods them in the Premiership. He has never finished below 4th in the league, and this win propelled his team back into that position, after a mediocre season by his high standards.
Sunderland’s line-up was 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon, 09 Campbell (Ji Dong-Won - 87'). We have the usual 7 players missing, but seem to be coping well.
The Londoners made the trip North with 13 Szczesny, 03 Sagna, 04 Mertesacker, (Ramsey - 72'), 05 Vermaelen, 06 Koscielny, 07 Rosicky, 08 Arteta, 14 Walcott, (Arshavin - 86'), 15 Oxlade-Chamberlain (Henry - 66'), 17 Song, 10 Van Persie.
Sunderland were set up to respect Arsenal as Martin O’Neill suggested in his pre-match interview. Overall this became a game of few chances, and the highlights of a forgettable first half were the bookings of Richardson and Campbell – but Sunderland neutralized the ball-playing visitors quite effectively, and carved out a couple of good chances, notably through Campbell.
There was a real period of pressure from Arsenal around 10 min. after the break, but Sunderland managed to regain the advantage with a succession of corners. There was a great shot from distance from Gardner after one of the set-pieces on 60 min. but Campbell was adjudged offside anyway.
Intense period of pressure, Gardner again on 62 min, which Szczesny saw late. On 66 min. Oxlade Chamberlain was subbed, credit to Bardsley for keeping him quiet. The first 70 min gave an overall view of Arsenal which had summed up their season so far, a lot of pretty but ineffective football from the visitors, they rarely tested Mignolet and they showed poor quality of crossing, at least for the first 75 min…
Sunderland’s defence has been excellent in the last few games, and the commentators were affirming their solidity in this game. On 70 min. the ball was played forward on Sunderland’s left, and Mertesacker went down under no pressure at all. McCLean ran onto the ball at the corner of the box, and still had a lot to do. He swerved slightly right and managed to direct the ball skillfully inside Szczesny’s right hand post, to add to his rapidly rising reputation. If only the Republic of Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni would agree, but the guy is only 22.
Ramsey came on for the injured Mertesacker and instantly changed the shape of the game. He took a speculative shot just outside the penalty area, and it went in off both posts before nestling in the net.
Soon after Campbell was brought down on the edge of the box, and O’Shea had his second chance of the game from Richardson’s free kick.
Ji Dong-Won came on for Campbell as Sunderland were expected to see out the last few minutes for a valuable point. But Arsenal brought on that forgotten man Arshavin, who seemed to have other ideas.
We had managed to keep van Persie quiet all game, and he had a header from an Arshavin cross, held by Mignolet. But as the last minute approached, Arshavin crossed between 2 home defenders and it was Henry, who made us all glad that he is heading back to New York after the midweek game with Milan, who finished convincingly from close range.
So we conceded a couple of goals, for once, in a game which was very close but for the last quarter hour. Arsene was smiling in the post-match interview, but next week will be a different game…and I was there at Hillsborough in 1973 when we beat the Gunners 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-final.
We can but dream...
©Lars J.S. Knutsen