MARTIN O’Neill has labelled Stephane Sessegnon as one of the “essential” ingredients in Sunderland’s resurgence.
The Benin international, expected to feature against Arsenal today after limping off against Middlesbrough in midweek, has been Sunderland’s most creative threat throughout the campaign.
But top scorer Sessegnon has thrived since O’Neill took charge in December, with the 27-year-old grabbing four in his last eight games – including the extra-time winner at the Riverside to send Sunderland through to the last 16 of the FA Cup.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I think he’s been essential to us.
“He gives us that little spark. He is unpredictable, he’s always capable of doing something – taking on players, opening up gaps and creating.
“He is a crowd pleaser and he’s got an end-product as well.
“And of course, he has contributed a few goals too, which has been fantastic.
“I think his goal against QPR before Christmas gave him a big lift. He ran from the halfway line, sold the goalkeeper a little dummy and then put the ball in the net. “Players like him, for all their creativity, also thrive when they are scoring goals.”
The Benin international has been Sunderland’s only ever-present this season, starting each of the Black Cats’ 28 games in all competitions.
For the bulk of O’Neill’s 13 games in charge, Sessegnon has played as a second striker, although he has proved his versatility by playing as a lone frontman or out wide.
O’Neill said: “I think he is one of those players who can play in a number of different positions.
“He has played on his own and despite the fact he is very strong, I think sometimes he needs someone alongside him, but he is also capable of dropping back into deeper positions and getting things going.
“He’s been brilliant for us.
“He’s also started every game this season in all competitions, which is absolutely fantastic.”
Sessegnon hobbled away from the Riverside on Wednesday night, but O’Neill says the former Paris St Germain man should be fit to face Arsenal today after suffering suspected cramp against Boro.
“He seems to be okay,” added O’Neill. “He’s got the go-ahead from the physio to play, so maybe it was just cramp.”