Sunderland welcomed back our talismanic captain, Lee Cattermole against Arsenal – we have been missing the “ball-winning midfielder” with his uncompromising tacking recently. I was checking his playing record recently and he has now had 65 bookings and 5 red cards in 191 league and cup appearances, and that includes 5 yellow cards in 16 FA Cup appearances, including yesterday. He is still only 23, but the main thing is that he is a talented footballer, and capable of turning in stunning performances, and he was recently compared to Scott Parker by the great Charlie Nicholas. Put it this way, I would much rather have Cattermole him playing for us than against us.
Fraiser Campbell moved to the bench, so we started with McLean and Sessegnon up front in the following team: 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 04 Turner, 11 Richardson, 16 O'Shea, 06 Cattermole, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 28 Sessegnon (Campbell - 88')
The North Londoners brought 21 Fabianski, 03 Sagna, 5 Vermaelen, 20 Djourou, 08 Arteta, 15 Oxlade-Chamberlain, 16 Ramsey (Walcott - 53'), 17 Song, 39 Coquelin (Squillaci - 10'), 10 Van Persie, 27 Gervinho.
Arsenal had suffered a number of injuries, not least Mertesacker, and started with Oxlade-Chamberlain, but quickly showed their attacking intent in the game, with Sunderland having a quiet start. Arteta went close after 5 min. from a free kick, with a shot to Mignolet’s left. Soon after the Londoners’ injury list grew longer as Coquelin pulled a hamstring on 8 min. and was soon replaced.
The home team now started pushing forward and Sess had a shot from distance which drifted wide to the high right hand side of the goal on 13 min. Wenger was soon remonstrating with the 4th Official after Cattermole made his presence felt, he looked tense and was clearly communicating some of that tension to the team.
Sunderland were now pressing well, and keeping Arsenal further up the pitch. Gervinho tried to catch the home team out on the break in the 27th min with a rising shot from a pass by Robin van Persie. Mignolet dealt with it very well, in what was overall a faultless performance, but it showed we could not lose concentration.
The home defence was impressive overall, and replays showed that when O’Shea brought down van Persie in the box on 31 min, he had also taken a touch of the ball.
Kieran Richardson is a good and adaptable player with an eye for goal, and he soon made a huge contribution to this game. A free kick from Sunderland’s right by Larsson was headed out by the Arsenal defence, and was met on the half-volley by Richardson, and a split-second later it nestled in the corner of the Londoners’ goal. A fine strike which took a slight deflection off Sebastien Squillaci as the shot fired back across goal on 40 min for 1-0, which eased the tension for the home fans, but brought a further furrow to the brow of a certain Frenchman. It was also great timing as we could play out the game uneventfully up to half-time; perhaps Wenger regretted that the rumour of him bidding for Richardson in the January transfer window proved to be untrue. .
Sunderland started the second half by keeping their shape well, and had a another great opportunity after a cynical foul on McLean, and Larsson went close with the resultant free kick with a shot over the wall on 47 min. The Swede has not scored since that FA Cup tie at Peterborough but has been a great contributor with his crosses and general play.
Rozicky and Theo Walcott came on for Ramsey and Squillaci, but did not alter the flow or pattern of the game. Van Persie was quiet again, and complained of being held down in the box and soon after Vermaelen had a header on target from an Arteta cross, but Mignolet gathered. No longer wearing his Robocop gear, he had a good game today.
The tide then again went strongly in the Black Cats’ favour when Sess collected the ball in his own half and went on a driving run, leaving a defender biting the dust. He looked as if he was shaping to shoot but unselfishly passed to Larsson on his right who drove the ball hard against the Arsenal post. The ball spun to Oxlade-Chamberlain on the line who did not exactly show his defensive qualities by helping the ball over the line, but really there was little he could do. Gardner was on hand to drive in just in case there was any doubt about the ball having crossed the line. A scruffy goal, but the build up was good and this time we had some of the luck in front of goal that the visitors had last week.
There was no real response from a physically and emotionally exhausted Arsenal. And this time Wenger could not complain about any controversial incidents. The simple truth is that The Black Cats just wanted it more...and Arsenal are missing the stars sold last summer like Fabregas and Nasri.
A typical comment from the BBC live online stream late on: A pretty, tippy-tappy exchange of passes between Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain briefly threatens to open Sunderland, but it has never looked like happening for the Gunners.
This effectively ends Arsenal’s season, aside from their efforts to make 4th place and next year’s Champions’ League. But for the Black Cats we have the intriguing prospect of a tie in the last 8 of the world’s oldest and to me the most atmospheric cup competition.
Anything can happen from now on but if The Lads keep playing as they have been doing in the last 10 weeks we have a chance of making it at least to the semi-finals. Everton are a threat, but we have nothing to fear. The only disappointment yesterday was the size of the crowd, but the team has great drive, skill and teamwork, as well as momentum.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen