Ex-Sunderland man Arca on facing Newcastle

Julio Arca

Julio Arca

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BARELY a minute had passed since Julio Arca was introduced to a hate-fuelled St James’s Park before Don Hutchison swept the ball into the net.

As Sunderland’s players ran to the corner flag and cast their eyes to the euphoric travelling supporters in the heavens, the young Argentine was left in no doubt what it meant to gain the bragging rights over the neighbours.

But at least Arca had enjoyed four months of acclimatising to life in the North East before the derby, experiencing those daily reminders of the divide between Wearside and Tyneside.

The likes of Ji Dong-won, Yohan Cabaye and Sylvain Marveaux have barely had time to meet their new team-mates and learn a few words of English, let alone focus their attention on the date circled in red on the calendar.

Stephane Sessegnon, Demba Ba and Gabriel Obertan have spent a touch longer on these shores, yet they will also face a steep learning curve in their Premier League education in Saturday’s derby.

Some may wilt under the barrage of obscenities, abuse and encouragement from the stands.

But Arca admits he found it inspirational, with the midfielder desperate to fulfil the hopes and dreams of those on Wearside.

“I did not know how important it was until my first game and you realise how much it means to the club and the fans,” he said. “It’s a massive game.

“It was new for me coming from Argentina.

“Up here, if you give 100 per cent then people respect you, even if you don’t do so well in a game.

“But, in the derby, you need to give 150 per cent because it is like a war on the pitch. It’s a part of history, too – you want to go down in the record books as beating Newcastle.

“You feel as hungry as the fans are for the win. That helps you and gives you confidence that you can give a bit extra.

“Every country has its big derbies and this one is definitely one of the biggest in England.

“Just playing in the stadium in front of 40 or 50,000 people is great.

“I remember coming out at the Stadium of Light when all the fans had their red and white cards in the air. It was great. But it is not easy making the change to English football and obviously Newcastle have signed a lot of French players.

“They will find out what it’s like in the first few minutes though with a (Lee) Cattermole tackle.”

There are those sure to handle the occasion. Joey Barton proved in both encounters with Newcastle last season, but particularly the 5-1 drubbing at St James’s Park, the worth of possessing a player who can thrive on the big-game atmosphere.

Arca believes the capture of Wes Brown gives Sunderland a similar presence, although the 30-year-old warned that Barton remains Newcastle’s dangerman.

“Joey Barton is a leader, but he is also a clever player,” added Arca.

“Sunderland will have to be very careful with him because he can annoy players and get them sent off, as we saw against Arsenal on Saturday.

“He’s also a very good player given time on the ball.

“But Sunderland have options now. Bringing in Wes Brown and John O’Shea will give them some stability and they’ve got that experience of playing for the biggest club in the world.”

Arca experienced all the derby emotions in his five Sunderland encounters against the Magpies.

His first liaison with Newcastle was the 2000 2-1 victory on Tyneside and he shone in the reverse fixture later in the season, even though Andy O’Brien grabbed a late leveller for the visitors.

It was downhill for the ex-Argentinos Juniors man from then on as he finished on the losing side in the three subsequent derbies he appeared in, culminating in 2006’s 4-1 defeat at the Stadium of Light.

But Arca believes Sunderland can notch only their third derby success on home soil in 20 years this weekend and is predicting a familiar scoreline.

He said: “Winning that first one, when Alan Shearer missed the penalty, was just great. We could not have asked for anything better than that.

“The one after that we should have won, but they equalised late on. That was probably the best game I played against Newcastle in a Sunderland shirt though

“It is always a close score, but I’d like to see Sunderland win on Saturday and I’ll go for 2-1.”