Mackems must move on from Southampton
25 October ~ A week ago, Sunderland were in unfamiliar territory. Following the calamitous start to last term and the defensive frailties that plagued the team, Gus Poyet’s men now appeared rather sound at the back. Having conceded a mere seven goals in as many opening games, only last Saturday’s opponents Southampton boasted a better record. How things change. As will need little recounting, Sunderland promptly shipped eight without reply, their joint-heaviest ever defeat.
Despite the manner and margin of last weekend’s humbling, one defeat will not send the club into crisis. It will, however, set some nerves jangling. Plenty feared the ill-fated pursuit of the former loanee Fabio Borini – who ended up retuning to Liverpool – in the summer would leave them short up front, while a lack of defensive cover remained an issue even after nine new faces arrived.
Both worries seem justified. Save for the victory against Stoke City three weeks ago, where Connor Wickham and Steven Fletcher (twice) were on the scoresheet, neither of Sunderland’s main strikers have caused opposing defences much trouble. Meanwhile, we are so thin on the ground defensively that Poyet has this week moved to sign the ageing French full-back Anthony Reveillere.
Those who travelled to St Mary’s last Saturday have been offered refunds on their tickets – paid for by the first-team squad – but only a good performance this weekend will truly go any way to putting that dismal showing out of people’s minds. The visit of Arsenal to the Stadium of Light ensures this will be a difficult task. The visitors arrive on the back of three straight league victories on Wearside and, though they will miss the injured Mesut Özil, who was the focal point of last term’s 3-1 win, they still possess more than enough to make Poyet’s men fear another bad afternoon. Danny Welbeck, who was given his first Premier League break as a Sunderland loanee, will doubtless be looking to prove to his former side just how far he has progressed.
In truth, Sunderland’s fortunes will largely depend on the performance of Lee Cattermole. Once maligned, and removed from the captaincy in the dark days of Paolo di Canio, the midfielder has since developed into Sunderland’s most important player. If he plays well, they could stymie the undoubted creativity of the visiting midfield. If he has an off day, like at Southampton, it could be another long afternoon for the home team. Chris Weatherspoon