Chris Young’s analysis - Facing Arsenal is irrelevant, this is all about Sunderland

Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson
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AP OINT away to Southampton. A point against Arsenal.

Given the pattern of draws which had dogged Sunderland during the opening seven games, that was not the most inconceivable scenario prior to last weekend’s shambles.

The vast majority of supporters would have gladly accepted a couple of additional points on the board too, considering Southampton are by far the “best of the rest” and Arsenal perennially hang on to a top-four Premier League spot.

Perversely, victory tomorrow would prove to be a better outcome.

It wouldn’t undo the humiliation and hurt stemming from the 8-0 mauling on the south coast. That will require some long-term healing.

Yet Sunderland’s points tally would receive a healthier boost. It’s almost better to be inconsistent in the Premier League – winning one week, losing the next – than continually drawing games.

But is it farcical to think the Black Cats can bounce back with aplomb against the Gunners?

In the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s shambles, it felt like it.

Gus Poyet’s men had seen their confidence shattered, their defensive resilience smashed and all talk of a solid, but steady, campaign ridiculed.

Understandably, the mood in the Sunderland camp this week has been raw.

But Seb Larsson made an astute point when asked about tomorrow’s meeting with his former club – the Swede claiming there would be no more determined team in the country this weekend than Sunderland.

The cynical may make mischief, but Larsson is spot-on.

These players were stunned by what happened at St Mary’s, with that shock quickly developing into embarrassment.

But, over the last 48 hours or so, they will have been desperate to get back onto the pitch and begin to make amends.

The opposition is largely irrelevant.

Arsenal have not been in great nick, have drawn five of their opening eight games and have an injury headache which has forced left-back Nacho Monreal to line up at centre-half.

After travelling to Brussels to face Anderlecht on Wednesday night, this is not a bad time to face Arsene Wenger’s side either, despite the obvious quality of Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla et al.

But tomorrow is all about Sunderland.

They need to get into Arsenal’s faces. They need to show some resilience in keeping Arsenal’s dangermen subdued.

Most importantly, they need to produce something to get the crowd behind them.

If they can do that, Sunderland will have half a chance of getting a positive result.

What approach does Poyet take, though?

There is a school of thought to keep the side intact for the first time this season and let those responsible for last weekend’s shenanigans sort it out themselves.

That is a persuasive argument.

But, on the flip side of the coin, the merits of Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell – albeit neither made a positive contribution from the bench at Southampton – have to be considered.

If Poyet does want to make changes, then Johnson and Rodwell are the only realistic outfield options, given the injuries which have highlighted the thin depth of the Sunderland squad.

It would be a surprise if new boy Anthony Reveillere was thrown straight into the deep-end, albeit he is the only realistic defensive alternative to the back four who started at Southampton.

Unless he wows, Reveillere is a short-term, back-up option.

Signing the ex-France international on a Bosman was a necessary step, with only four other defenders available, but the 34-year-old is likely to provide cover.

However, Poyet was vague on Reveillere’s chances yesterday, but did confirm that Vito Mannone will keep his plac.

Costel Pantilimon was justified to question whether he should be included after his fellow keeper conceded eight times last weekend.

But Mannone has bought himself some credit with his performances over the last year and familiarity is perhaps the best route towards building some confidence again at the back.

Mannone will be desperate to feature, too, after clearly being stricken by remorse on the south coast, before proposing the idea of a supporter refund.

That was an admiral gesture off the pitch from Sunderland’s players. Now they need to make a footballing one.

Verdict: Draw