Wenger calls for unity after latest capitulation
Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0
It was the impotence that was so shocking. Arsène Wenger had just watched Arsenal concede a second, late goal that was about to knock them out of the FA Cup; a seventh successive season had ended without another trophy.
In February. It looked like there was an urge from Wenger to go pitch side and shout and bawl, to let go of some of the rage, but nothing came out, save for a futile, almost apologetic wave of the arms.
Then he shook his head, maybe he does not believe what he is seeing, that the empire he has worked so hard for the best part of 16 years has crumbled, that his team had neither the stomach for the fight nor the talent to suggest better days lie around the corner.
Yesterday felt like the end because amid the rubble was so little; so little fight, so little talent, so little to look forward to. Roy Keane led the way in a TV studio. He questioned the passion and desire and then opined it was the worst Arsenal side he had ever seen ("very harsh" reckoned Wenger).
Arsenal's latest capitulation, and there have been so many in recent times, was most striking perhaps, because it was not that unexpected.
There felt a number of key moments; not least the sight of Robin van Persie, shirtless having thrown it to the 4200 travelling Arsenal fans, (or at least those that had not left) at the end of the game, striding towards the visitors' dressing room, his face deadpan.
Or substitute Sébastien Squillaci himself being substituted. On in 11 minutes, off before the hour mark, stomping towards the tunnel with more fight, aggression and determination than his miserable performance had showed. Apparently it was because he was injured.
Or maybe it was the way Sunderland moved as if they had been playing together for years, that they were the side fighting once more to finish fourth. Or finally, that when it gets this bad, the two goals that end your desperate search for a trophy come from your own players.
The first was unfortunate, Kieran Richardson's well-struck shot taking a slight deflection off Squillaci, five minutes before the interval. The second, 13 minutes from time, seemed more symptomatic of Arsenal's problems, Stéphane Sessègnon outrunning and outmuscling Mikel Arteta, Seb Larsson taking his pass and striking a post, which struck Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who inadvertently directed the ball over his own line.
Sunderland deserved their win. Wenger could only complain about a possible first-half penalty when John O'Shea and Van Persie came together – it was at best questionable.
Still, Wenger later made an appeal. "We have to take the critics on board and stay together and face the critics," he said. "There is only one response in our job, it is to stay united and fight and focus on the next game. I get many lessons from many people who managed zero clubs and zero games and zero European games but I don't think that would have helped us to win the game."
Sunderland progressing to the last eight could be overlooked, which is perhaps the way Martin O'Neill likes it. "I'm really pleased," he said. "I'm delighted, delighted for everyone concerned with the football club, the players particularly, I thought they were excellent."
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Turner, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole, Colback, McClean; Gardner; Sessègnon (Campbell, 89).
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Fabianksi; Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Coquelin (Squillaci, 11; Walcott, 53); Song, Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey (Rosicky, 53), Gervinho; Van Persie.
Referee Howard Webb.
Man of the match Cattermole (Sunderland).
Match rating 7/10.
His tactics It no longer seems to be about the system. That is not the problem. Arsenal went with a 4-2-3-1 formation. In theory it should work, with Robin van Persie such a dangerous outlet. It didn't; Arsenal's front three, Gervinho, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain, look frighteningly short of confidence.
His demeanour There was an early shot of Arsène Wenger yesterday in the dugout, arms folded, grim-faced, looking a bit chilly (that was understandable, it was freezing). But it contrasted tellingly with Martin O'Neill, who was by his team's side throughout, energised, just like his men.
His players They are no longer good enough, and there are no longer any points for stating the blindingly obvious either. But the sight of Sébastien Squillaci stomping down the tunnel, the substitute who had been substituted, said much.
His prospects It seems harsh to be speculating on Wenger's future after such a distinguished managerial career, but seven years without a trophy would be dangerous enough without the continued demise of the current Arsenal side.
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