By Phil Gregory
A resurgent Sunderland side lie in wait for Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, though a 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn could prove to be the catalyst for revitalising our own campaign. The draw at Bolton recently means that we really must be getting the three points from Sunderland if we are serious about catching Spurs. Such a result would be great against the league’s form side: Sunderland have won six of their last eight games, and taken thirteen points from their last five league games at home. Ouch.
Martin O’Neill has certainly turned Sunderland around since his return. Steve Bruce’s main failing was being the proverbial “teenager on Football Manager” come the transfer window: he’d buy about ten players –mostly good players, but not all – which would raise fan expectations, but such an influx would require a substantial “bedding in” period. A weaker group of players who know each other will outperform a better team thrown together and unfortunately rather than building slowly and adding a player or two, Bruce tried to do too much at once. He did spend a lot of money, but given he sold quite a few players too (who he’d invariably bought a season or two previously) his net spend – the difference between what he spent and what he received on transfers – was actually unexceptional. Liverpool under Benitez exhibited this phenomenon too: big spending, but actually net outlays weren’t as high as you would imagine. Whether this tells the whole story of the costs of such a wheeler dealer transfer policy remains to be seen, as charges such as agent fees and sign on fees won’t be included in a “transfer net spend” figure. A look at the growth in Sunderland’s general costs over the duration of Bruce’s management would be revealing, as would the general level of the wage bill. Often, transfer fees grab the headlines, but it is high wages for players on lengthy contracts that strangle a club financially.
Moving back to the matter at hand, things are looking better on the injury front with each passing week, with no new additions to the injury list from the weekend. In addition, Kieran Gibbs is back in the squad given his return to full training. Most likely he’ll need to build up match fitness before he can start games, but his return allows us the prospect of relieving Vermaelen at left back, and intensifying competition for a centreback berth.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Vermaelen
Walcott Van Persie Chamberlain
There shouldn’t be too much controversy in that line up. Sagna comes in as he’ll probably have attained the required level of fitness to start by now, which is a great boost to the side. I’m also hoping to see Rosicky continue in the playmaker role, as I think he’s really kicked on recently and is playing well. That’s not to criticise Aaron Ramsey, but the Czech international is just that little bit fresher, having been used sparingly so far this season. Hopefully the impressive Chamberlain will continue on the left flank too. Gervinho’s return from the African Cup of Nations will certainly pose Wenger a selection dilemma, but on current performances Chamberlain will be no means be making way for the Ivorian.
A completely anecdotal look back at our recent record at the Stadium of Light isn’t great, with disappointing results over the last couple of seasons likely needing no reminder. With a largely full-strength line-up out we have enough about us to see off Sunderland despite their impressive recent performances, but anything short of a great performance will see us heading home disappointed. I’m not hoping anything other than a narrow win – three points is the only thing that really matters here – though I imagine most neutrals would put money on a draw, and the Mackems will feel they are capable of a win at home. Either way, it’s one of those games you wouldn’t bet on expecting to beat the bookie… I’ll go for 3-2 to the Arsenal, with the score line indicating how close I think it’ll be rather than any statement on the two teams’ defences.
p.s. apologies for my absence last week to the Untold team – I got my wires crossed and thought the game was on Sunday as opposed to Saturday. Evidently the UK’s cold snap is freezing my brain.
- The Big 7 clubs, how much they spent and what good is it doing?
- What the media won’t tell you about football 5: Fifa lends money to Switzerland
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 4 – referee variations
- The final transfer rumours: 3 new names to make 66 players tipped for Arsenal
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 3 – referee home bias