ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Sunderland
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Posted by Lars Knutsen on 08/20/2012

The big question on the opening day was could Sunderland, after their less than impressive pre-season, make an impression against a potentially demoralised Arsenal? The North Londoners seem to be making a habit of selling their best players, and have moved their captain on in each of the last 3 seasons.

Perhaps the North Londoners are preparing early for the Financial Fair Play rules, and I am sure they will do well under this regimen, but there is a pattern of high value players departing the Emirates for rival top clubs, with the fee for Robin Van Persie apparently close to £24 M, and Song now leaving for £15 M. Or is Wenger just losing it…and not able to motivate his stars? How much did it hurt to sell RVP to his old mate Sir Alex?

Back to the game, and personally I was relieved to see Sessegnon and Richardson in the Black Cats line-up, after all the talk in the papers about their impending transfers to among others, Arsenal…

Sunderland lined up with: Mignolet, Gardner, Cuellar, O'Shea, Richardson, Larsson, Colback, Cattermole, McClean, Sessegnon, Campbell. Subs: Westwood, Wickham, Kilgallon, Meyler, Bramble, Saha, Elmohamady. Arsenal featured: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Diaby, Arteta, Cazorla, Walcott, Gervinho, Podolski. Subs: Mannone, Andre Santos, Giroud, Ramsey, Djourou, Coquelin, Arshavin.

So after this game some major questions were answered – yes, we can defend, and Carlos Cuellar is a decent signing, playing well for his former boss. Importantly, our playmaker Sessegnon is fit and a threat, but needs to regain match fitness after injury.

But other major existential questions were raised. Are we Leicester? And how does one spell McClean, as in our young Irish winger? I will attempt to answer those questions in a moment, but first, the match itself.

Amid Arsenal’s domination, although in possession terms it was only 52:48, the hosts only mustered 4 shots on target, all of which were dealt with well by Simon Mignolet.

McClean had the first chance of the game after 4 min, put through by Richardson, receiving well, and shooting straight at Szczesny. Less than a minute after, the new Arsenal signing Cazorla fired on goal, but Mignolet saved. The Spaniard impressed, and looks as if he will add to the team.

The first 20 minutes were pretty even in hot, sunny conditions – Arsenal probed intelligently while The Lads were looking to catch the home side on the break. Colback had a decent chance at the edge of the box with his left foot when set up by Sess.

In the second half the Gunners were pushing forward and shooting at will, without really troubling Mignolet. The Sunderland defence was holding firm with Cuellar and Richardson impressing. Arsene Wenger’s brow was becoming increasingly furrowed.

Aside from the action, the commentators noted that our Irish winger was sporting a shirt with his name mis-spelt as McLean – rather like a postage stamp with the Queen’s head missing, it could become a collector’s item.

So this game confirmed what we already knew, we are solid at the back, have a great and improving keeper, the midfield is sound and combative, but we do look a bit light upfront. The onus was on Arsenal to score, and the game showed that overall that the Londoners had little cutting edge. Too often Sunderland’s sometimes desperate clearances fell to Arsenal midfielders, and when they teed up the forwards, they shot wide or weakly. There were some flowing moves from the home team and Cazorla set up Giroud on 81 min., but the Frenchman missed when it seemed easier to score.

If I was a football manager, my tactics would be like Martin O’Neill’s – do not give goals away cheaply. OK, we were under the cosh at times, but our defence and midfield showed admirable composure and determination.

Maybe Wenger had been chewing on red English cheese at half-time, but in his post-game interview he referred to the visiting team as Leicester…see the interview at: before it is taken down.

I also loved a couple of quotes from commentator Ian Darke: About our captain “He’s a man-marker in every sense, Lee Cattermole” and a word or two from a conversation with our former boss ““Roy Keane said a lot of people won’t sign for us because the wives do not like the shopping in Sunderland”.

We will find out over the next 10 days if this is still a factor. I for one like shopping in Sunderland, the stotty cakes and Double Maxim are still great. Match verdict: justified optimism now for the coming season.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen

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Lars Knutsen Lars Knutsen was born in Sunderland of Norwegian parents across the Wear from the SSOL back when shipbuilding not car manufacture was the city’s main industry. His first game was in 1968 and he has followed the Black Cats since then, with great memories of the 1973 FA Cup. He hopes the “yo-yo” days are over and defines supporting a team by whether the result affects your mood (but maybe not in the way portrayed in the book “Fever Pitch”!) so has been cheerful recently. He endured school in Newc**tle, has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, a Professorship at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, and works in the Pharma industry as a consultant Medicinal Chemist.

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