Category Archives: Sunderland

We all ♥ Mike Dean—well, maybe Mourinho doesn’t…

I know we haven’t always liked Mike Dean. Some of us, to be honest, have struggled to appreciate the deeper insights into the game that surely he possesses. There have been times when, to put it mildly, we have had our differences in opinion, when we struggled to understand just what match he was watching when he made this call or overlooked that one. Now, finally, the esteemed Mr. Dean has redeemed himself in our eyes, setting aside those differences of opinion and rising above the distrust, and showing himself to be worthy of our respect, our admiration, our love. Heck, I might even go so far as to suggest that he’s now our favorite referee in the Prem. Don’t take my word for it, though. Take it straight from the ‘little horse’s’ mouth—Jose Mourinho’s mouth, that is.

Speaking after the match, Jose had nothing but kind words to say:

Congratulations to Mike Dean because he made a fantastic performance. And congratulations to Mike Riley because what they did during the season was fantastic for the way the championship is going. “So congratulations to all of them and I have nothing more to say.

Listen to the guy. He’s never been so effusive in his praise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him or any manager use the word ‘fantastic’ so sincerely, so honestly, so—wait. He’s being sarcastic? Jose? Well, knock me down with a feather.

It turns out that Jose was furious—furious, I tell you—at Dean and Riley for the officiating, specifically the call that led to Sunderland’s go-ahead goal. I’ve watched the clip a few times and, even with my anti-Chelsea, pro-Altidore bias (I am American, after all), I feel pretty objective in pointing out that there was enough contact to justify the call. Azpilicueta went for a slide tackle in the box, which is reckless is not brainless, and it does look like he hooked Altidore’s foot. There was probably more contact there than there was between Mertesacker and McManaman in the Wigan match. At any rate, the side-judge raised his flag immediately and Dean pointed to the spot.  Sunderland took the lead with ten minutes to go and held on to win, thus ending Mourinho’s streak at Stamford Bridge and all but ending any hopes of Chelsea winning the Premiership. For a squad like Chelsea to look to the referee for help or as a scapegoat against the likes of Sunderland boggles my mind, to be honest. How can a squad that is contending for the Prem title and  going into the Champions League semifinal need help? They were facing Sunderland, a team so woebegone as to still occupy the bottom-spot despite taking four points in one week. So it goes.

The call might have been soft, and I’m sure we’d be as furious as Mourinho was, but it stands as a lesson that cuts all the deeper when you carry yourself with the smugness and imperiosity that Mourinho does (note: I understand that ‘imperisoty’ is not a real word, but I like it better than ‘imperiousness’. Better rhythm. Better overlap with related words liked ‘pomposity’ and ‘grandiosity.’). Chelsea were +32 at home; Sunderland were -14 away. For the match to come down to a dubious penalty is just-desserts, in my opinion, and if it denies Mourinho any silverware this season, so much the better. I’ve suggested in previous posts that Chelsea’s Champions League progress might be just the ticket to distract from or interfere with their Prem priorities. If this result is any indication, that’s fine with me. It does look as if Chelsea’s squad-selection was made with one eye on their Tuesday clash with Atletico.

However, sad as it may sound, this may come as too little, too late as far as we’re concerned. Should we win against Hull on Sunday, we’ll still trail Chelsea by five points with just three matches to play. That’s a bridge too far (see what I did there? A little play on Stamford Bridge and the old saying “a bridge too far”? Eh? Eh?” Sigh. Let’s move on). Still, we can raise our glasses to Mr. Dean, the man who tweaked Mourinho and Chelsea on this day. It’s not enough to change the title-chase, but it might be just enough to warm the cockles or our hearts must a little towards a man against whom we’ve felt nothing but scorn and rage. That would be Dean, by the way, not Mourinho. Man. Talk about a tough choice for the question “if you were stranded on a desert island, would you spend it with _______ or _________?” At the moment, Dean has edged ahead.

Even if Saturday’s result does nothing to change our prospects vis-à-vis the Prem, it still gives us something to warm our hands over, much like holding a nice, piping-hot cup of tea on a cold winter’s morn. You know, the simple pleasures.

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Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland: Player Ratings

After slogging and struggling through our last five or six matches, today’s brought some well-earned relief as we went ahead of Sunderland on the fifth minute from a Giroud goal, to which he added a second 25 minutes later, outwitting Vergini to interecept a back-pass and nutmeg Mannone. By the time Rosický reprised il pornogol di Wilshere against Norwich just before halftime, it was all but over. Kos chipped in with a nifty header that left Mannone flat-footed. The only black mark was the goal conceded to Giaccherini, which ended the bid for a clean sheet and saved face a bit for the Black Cats, who fell for just the second time in fourteen matches. With Chelsea stealing a late win from Everton and Man City similarly squeaking past Stoke, both by 1-0 scores, the top of the table remains unchanged for another week. Let’s take a look at how our boys did…


  • Olivier Giroud—9.72: A stellar return to the staring lineup, perhaps thanks to a rest, perhaps as a response to the challenge from Sanogo, as Giroud netted twice, the first a poacher’s goal after Wilshere’s shot/pass scraped across the box for Giroud to pounce on, and the second when Vergini attempted a back-pass that Giroud alertly anticipated and put past Mannone. He turned provider for Rosický, offering the final flick in a Norwich-esque sequence for Rosický to finish. 
  • Tomáš Rosický—7.99: Buzzing about, Rosický created havoc in all of the best ways. His pressure on Vergini forced the backpass for Giroud; Rosický pressed him but left open a path towards the goal, inviting the pass as the only release. On his goal, he collected a pass on the right flank, cut inside and passed to Cazorla, then running across Cazorla’s pass to Wilshere, who laid it off for Rosický, who tapped to Giroud and continued his run into the box to slot home from Giroud’s flick. In any other season, a goal of the season. Norwich still trumps it.
  • Laurent Koscielny—7.87: His sharp header to make it 4-0 will grab the attention, and on a day when we kept 65% possession, there would be little for him to do, but he did find time for two tackles, an interception, and two clearances. He only had 30 touches, so quiet was the outing for him. Well, on defense, at least. He exerted himself enough to put a bit of strain on his back, but he should be ready for next week.
  • Santi Cazorla—7.78: His corner-kick to Koscielny was perfectly weighted, curling far out enough from goal and into that Goldilocks zone where the keeper can’t risk coming off his line but is still close enough for a teammate to finish. He was lively and productive all match, sending through-balls and crosses in to create chances for teammates and looked quite comfortable playing on the right.
  • Mikel Arteta—7.71: Back to his metromic best, pinging passes all around the pitch, amassing 121 passes and 136 touches (1st in the team) and ten accurate long balls (1st). He was reliably alert on defense as well, making three tackles (1st) and four interceptions (1st). His caution and ability to both disrupt Sunderland’s attack and relaunch our own gave Wilshere more freedom to push upfield as well.
  • Bacary Sagna—7.51: Five clearances (1st), three tackles (1st), and a last-man tackle helped to preserve the lead. With most of Sunderland’s attack coming down our right flank, Sagna’s consistency and stolidity offered few openings, and it’s a wonder that Sunderland didn’t seek better chances elsewhere.
  • Jack Wilshere—7.28: Still not the kind of defensive display I’d like to see, but an improvement as he did register two tackles. he might have closed down Giaccherini better, but it was a well-hit one-time volley. Wilshere’s involvement in Rosický’s goal was part of three key-passes (1st), showing his importance to the build-up and in creating chances for others. His 123 touches were second only to Arteta’s 136, showing how well the two of them can work together. Unfortunately, Wilshere may have picked up a little tightness in the hamstring, but he had to stay on because we’d already made three changes.
  • Lukas Podolski—6.91: Like Wilshere, he could have done a bit more on Giaccherini’s shot, but he otherwise acquitted himself well, forcing a tough save from Mannone with a typically Podolskian hammer-shot. Still, with the amount of possession we had and how much of that went down the left (38%), we might expect more from Poldi than the two shots he took and the three crosses that went begging for a teammate.
  • Wojciech Szczesny—6.9: He wasn’t called on to do much but has to be beating himself for failing to claim the cross that led to Giaccherini’s shot; punching Larsson’s kick sent it to the top of the box, where Giaccherini collected and struck it through the crowd. It appears to have slipped under the diving Szczesny, ending a run of clean sheets in the Prem but that’s the extent of the damage.
  • Per Mertesacker—6.89:  Not a whole lot to report for Per, playing mop-up on a day when Sunderland could muster little possession and even fewer attacks. Still, he did make four tackles and made sure that there was very little to report on those rare occasions that Sunderland did make incursions forward.
  • Nacho Monreal—6.4: A very quiet, almost anonymous performance for the man, who came off at halftime due to an apparent ankle-injuy. With Gibbs nursing his hamstring and Arsene perhaps sensing he could get it away with, Jenkinson came on at halftime to allow Monreal to get treatment and stay fit for next week.
  • Serge Gnabry (73′ for Rosický)—6.51: Despite making the shortest appearances of the three subs, he had the most chance to have an impact and nearly mad the most of the chance with two well-taken shots to test Mannone. However, this was well in the bag by the time he came on.
  • Carl Jenkinson (45′ for Monreal)—6.36: As with most of the defense, not a whole lot to report after a fairly quiet day at the office. Jenkinson looked comfortable playing out of position, though it’s hard to truly assess under the circumstances. He put a shift in and that’s about as much as there is to say.
  • Mathieu Flamini (67′ for Koscielny)—6.13: Versatility matters a bit, whether it’s Jenkinson or Cazorla playing opposite their normal side or Flamini dropping down to center-back. Could we convert him to CB and then make Vermaelen a DM? Kidding. As with Jenkinson, a quiet, largely uneventful shift as we were comfortably ahead by the time he appeared.
All in all, a comfortable victory and one that was settled fairly early, which is a nice change of pace from the last few weeks. It would have been fantastic to see our rivals drop points, but that’s out of our hands. Making the most of fixtures like this one is a vital ingredient to our own title-tilt, and it’s one that we’ve struggled with in seasons past.

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Sunderland Preview: Cazorla-Yaya strike up a partnership

After a tough string of fixtures, a visit from Sunderland comes as something of a relief as, for the first time in what seems likes ages, we’ll face a squad without aspirations to silverware. However, the match is no less vital from our end as these are precisely the kind of points that championship-calibre teams seize. For Sunderland, currently in the drop-zone but with as many as eight other teams a mere four points way, nicking a point could represent a sizable coup, not to mention a huge morale-booster.

In other words, no rest for the wicked, as the saying goes. Tempting though it may be to pencil in a victory ahead of time, we would do well to be wary. Sunderland are actually a bit tougher away from the Stadium of Light, taking 13 points from 12 away-matches compared to 11 points from 13 matches at home. While neither is enough to lift them from the drop-zone, the Black Cats’ recent run has seen them lose just once in their last ten from all competitions, building some momentum for the run-in after an up-and-down first half of the season anchored them to the very bottom of the table. Their focus may be on the League Cup Final or FA Cup quarterfinal, but Gus Poyet seems to have them very much on the right track in the Prem as well, with players apparently buying into his methods and living up to his demands.
Coming off of our 0-2 defeat to Bayern, by contrast, might threaten to undermine our confidence and leave us ripe for the plucking by an ambitious team fighting to avoid relegation. However, the manner of the defeat suggests to me that a fierce rebound is in the offing. It’s one thing to be utterly dismantled but quite another to lose by the same margin because we were a man down. Yes, the away-goals deficit is identical to last year’s, but the feeling is different. Last year’s 1-3 loss seemed to knock loose all of the fillings; this year’s 0-2 feels more like something that slipped away. This may bode ill for Sunderland. I’d wager that more than a few among our squad are looking for someone to take out their frustrations on, and, lo and behold, here are the Black Cats.
When we last met back in September, the in-form Giroud, Ramsey, and Özil combined to share three goals and two assists among them in a 3-1 win at the Stadium of Light. This time through, we may see a starting XI bereft of all three. Ramsey, of course, is out injured. Giroud may again be rested due to a variety of physical, mental, and existential niggles, and Özil looks about as weary as they come. With another rugged string of fixtures coming up, this may be the one last chance to rest him and Giroud without undermining the title-tilt. With Yaya Sanogo showing flashes of potential, it would be intriguing, perhaps even exciting, to see what he can do against lesser opposition.
However, the real man to watch in my opinion is Santi Cazorla. Having been subbed off early in the Bayern match in order to make way for Fabianski to replace Szczesny, he should be fit and eager to make up for lost time. I’d look to him to link up with Sanogo, who has impressed me so far in bits and spurts. At the risk of going out on a limb, then, not knowing who will actually answer the call (or get a call in the first place), I see a brace from Cazorla and a break-through goal for Sanogo.
Final score: Arsenal 3-0 Sunderland.

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Chelsea, a cornered beast or simply dead in the water?

So Chelsea crashed out of the League Cup against Sunderland, going 120 minutes while scoring just one goal and watching helplessly as Ki Sung-Yueng netted at 118′ to see Sunderland through to the next round. Of course, caveats and asterisks abound as Cech, terry, Ramires, Oscar, and Mata rested. Of Chelsea’s XI, we might see Lampard, Cole, Cahill, and Luiz, each of whom played the full 120′. Given the ages of Lampard (35) and Cole (32), not to mention the latter’s reliance on pace, they’re likely to be rested. Then again, Essien’s yellow-card, his fifth on the season, means he’ll sit out and perhaps force a weary Lampard into action.

However, before we go too far into the specifics of the match, let’s take a broader view. Chelsea, to put it politely, have been mediocre despite managing to scrabble their way to enough points to sit third in the Prem. Since November, a stretch of eleven matches including the Champions League, they’ve managed to win six while drawing once and losing four times. Of those six wins, perhaps only their 3-0 win over Schalke in the Champions League stands out for its quality. Along the way, Chelsea have found a way to draw at home to West Brom, lose at FC Basel, win at Sunderland thanks to a late own-goal, lose at Stoke, eke out home-wins over Steaua and Crystal Palace, and lose at home to Sunderland. Yes, three points matter regardless of their manner, and champions find ways to win when quality alone doesn’t carry the day, but it’s been somewhat shocking to see how poor Chelsea have been—not just on Tuesday at Sunderland, but all season. Each potential signature victory comes with some kind of an asterisk. Defeated Man City? Yeah, but that was at Stamford Bridge. Defeated Arsenal? But Arsenal rotated heavily for the League Cup. In fact, it’s remarkable to see how few definitive wins Chelsea can claim and how many shocking defeats they’ve suffered. Each one, however, reduces the shock-value.

This latest, one that some may defend by saying that Chelsea had rotated heavily, still stands out. Much is made of Chelsea’s depth, with the idea that their bench is better than most clubs’ starting XI. Well, we saw much the opposite on Tuesday, with Chelsea’s XI, which included regulars such as Cole, Luiz, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Lampard, and Mikel, fail to defeat the Prem’s most abject squad, one that has managed only two wins in the Prem from 16 fixtures and that fired its manager six matches into the season. I mean, good God. Were it not for a Cattermole own-goal, Sunderland might have kept a clean-sheet.

None of this is to say that Monday’s fixture will be a cake-walk, not by any means. However, so much has been made of the fact that Arsèneh has never defeated Mourinho across nine matches that I felt like it would be worth addressing. Look. Historic comparisons don’t matter all that much. We can perhaps look a season or two into the past for some context, but squad change so often, and players evolve so much, that there’s little to be gleaned from them. More instructive, perhaps, would be each club’s recent form. At the risk of coming across as overly optimistic, we’ve salvaged a tricky draw against Everton, backed our way into the next round of the Champions League despite losing away to Napoli, and very nearly equaled Man City at the Etihad. By contrast, Chelsea eked out a 1-0 win over Steaua and a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, both at home, and lost 1-2 away to Sunderland. On the surface, both Arsenal and Chelsea have staggered.

There are still six days before we’ll clash, but Tuesday’s result suggests that Chelsea is the club on the ropes, not Arsenal. How delicious would it be to deliver a knock-out on Monday, not just to Chelsea’s aspirations, but to Mourinho’s tenure? 

Özil who? Ramsey pummels Sunderland into submission

It was brilliant and even breath-taking at times to see Mesut Özil on the pitch. Merely seeing him in the Arsenal kit was an inspiration, and the fact that his first two touches produced an assist on the game’s first goal is an exciting glimpse of things to come. Just as important as his touch and skill on the ball is his influence on the game even when he

doesn’t have the ball. So intelligent is his movement, and so threatening he is, defenders simply must be aware of his position at all times, and the disorder and nervousness that infects our opponents is going to create even more openings and chances. Into that breach steps one Aaron Ramsey, far and away the best player on the pitch. On a day when his new teammate’s name was splashed across the marquee, Ramsey dominated the match and made sure we came away with all three points, good enough to see us at the top of the table, at least until the outcome of Liverpool’s trip to Swansea on Monday.

In Arteta’s absence, and as Flamini continues to acquaint himself, Ramsey’s emergence as a generator and field-marshal has become all the more important. It should come as no surprise that, in addition to scoring twice, Ramsey led the team in tackles (7) and passes (88) and displayed his trademark work-rate and all-around play that we’re coming to take for granted.

And so on a day when we saw the debut of the club’s biggest-ever signing, in pounds if not in stature, the symbolism of Ramsey’s display should not be overlooked. In fact, if Arsène himself could have scripted this any better:

  1. Sign young, promising British player (okay, Welsh, but still…).
  2. Endure questions and doubts about his quality as form falters.
  3. See his potential thwarted and perhaps sidetracked forever by injury.
  4. See him struggle to recover semblance of form. 
  5. Endure torrent of abuse around fielding a player of such questionable skills.
  6. See home-grown rediscover skill and confidence.
  7. Vindicate philosophy of making superstars.
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Now, of course, it’s a bit early to be anointing Ramsey as a superstar, so let’s just leave it at “he’s enjoying a fine run of form”. Three MotM ratings from in six appearances. Five goals and an assist to lead the team. A confidence on the ball that must be off the charts. Above all, and at the risk of drawing overly large conclusions from an admittedly small sample size (1/3 of last season plus six games this season), I do believe we’re seeing Arsène’s philosophy bearing fruit. It may be just one fruit, but I’m wondering how soon we’ll see a bumper-crop including the likes of Wilshere, Walcott, and Gibbs, to name just a few. Each man has shown more than a glimmer of what’s possible when he’s in form, but Ramsey, week after week after week, has simply led the team to one victory after another. He’s been a revelation, one good enough to help see the team to victories in 14 of our last 17 competitive matches (and draws in two of those other three).

Against Sunderland, his first goal was a wonderful volley, made all the more difficult because he was leaning back. Volleys are tough enough to time, let alone put on frame, and to do so with his body in that position shows that Ramsey has entered the vaunted zone, that Zen-like state in which one knows what is happening and what to do without thinking. The second goal, though it lacked for the highlight-reel quality that a volley offers, showed sublime movement off the ball (something we’ll examine in more depth tomorrow) as Ramsey laid off the ball at the top of the box and darted in behind the Sunderland defense (beating four defenders along the way) to collect the pass from Giroud and finish coolly under Westwood.

Goals from Ramsey are gravy. Icing on the cake. The bee’s knees. While it won’t solve our striker-dilemma (Giroud, good as he’s been so far, is only one man), a certain French manager can’t be blamed for taking it all in and reading it, rightly in my opinion, as proof once again that he knows what he’s up to. Blame him if you will for transfer-market failings (and you’d be right), but he’s not the one who has distorted the market with oil-tycoon money. He’s been slow to react to that, to be sure, but seeing Ramsey flourish shows that there’s still something to the “we don’t buy superstars; we make them” adage. Should Ramsey continue to show this kind of form—not goals, necessarily, but hallmarks like hustle and tackling and passing—we may look back, years from now, on the end of the 2012-13 campaign as the birth of a superstar. We could do a lot worse than rooting for that.

Between Ramsey, Wilshere, and Özil, the depth of talent and range of skill should leave you alternately breathless, hyper, and on the edge of your seat. Not one of them is even 25 yet, and they’re each under contract until 2018. Sure, Özil stands apart a bit as the record-setting transfer, but what we seem to be on the cusp of a renaissance. It’s a renaissance of method just as much as of outcome; the goals and the victories are sure to come, but it’s through how they’ll come that should deliver some satisfaction to Arsène, who might be humming just a few bars of Sinatra’s “My Way”:

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
when I bit off more than I could chew,
but through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall
and did it my way.

I’ve loved; I’ve laughed and cried.
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing,
and now, as the tears subside,
I find it all so amusing

to think I did all that,
and may I say, not in a shy way,
“oh no, oh no, not me,
I did it my way!”