Football Echo Verdict: Now keep up that standard, Sunderland

Jozy Altidore can't believe his goal was not allowed. Picture by Kevin Brady

Jozy Altidore can't believe his goal was not allowed. Picture by Kevin Brady

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MESUT Ozil must have thought this Premier League malarkey was straightforward stuff as he trotted off at half-time.

For 45 minutes, the £42million deadline day buy had been the conductor extraordinaire in the harmonious Arsenal orchestra.

Pass, move, pick a ball down the gaping holes between centre-half and full-back. Simple really. What was all this gubbins about the Premier League being quicker and more physical?

But something happened to Sunderland at the interval.

Ozil suddenly discovered that not all Premier League sides are so obliging and there will be challenges to ruffle a few feathers.

A penalty less than three minutes after the break was admittedly a God-send and gave Sunderland the self-belief that they could indeed upset the odds.

Suddenly – arguably for the first time this season – there was some intensity around Sunderland’s play.

The half-time introduction of Craig Gardner provided Sunderland with some bite in the middle of the park, and suddenly Arsenal “didn’t like it up ‘em”.

But all that effort was overshadowed by the official.

It was officially awful from Martin Atkinson.

If young referees want a lesson on the advantage rule, then Bacary Sagna’s foul on Jozy Altidore provided the perfect example.

It was advantage 101.

Sagna clearly fouled Altidore, but the American shrugged off the challenge and trickled the ball past Wojciech Szczesny. Goal.

It wasn’t even a goal-line technology issue, as initially looked the case.

Atkinson even managed to compound his clanger by only booking Sagna when Altidore would have clearly been clean through had he not been fouled.

Di Canio could not contain himself and understandably so; the Italian sent off in stoppage time as he raged in Atkinson’s face.

In the context of the season, it could be a huge moment.

Had Sunderland taken a point yesterday, it would have been an enormous boost to the confidence in the Black Cats camp. It could have been the start of something.

Instead, Di Canio’s men find themselves bottom of the league with a solitary point on the board, ahead of a trip to fellow strugglers West Brom.

There were plenty of shoots of positivity from that second-half display though.

That could be crucial. Had Sunderland meandered along tamely, as they had in the opening 45 minutes, this start to the season would have grown even more ominous.

But now there is something to build on. Sunderland have set their standards, they have to make sure it is not a one-off.

There are still problems; too many times in both halves, Arsenal were able to exploit the huge gaps in the Black Cats’ back-line, with the organisational abilities of John O’Shea clearly missed.

Sunderland have now conceded three times in successive games. They must tighten up.

But there were encouraging signs from Altidore and Steven Fletcher in the second half, both wingers were able to find space and Ki Sung-Yeung should be sharper from a first 90 minutes of the campaign.

A point would have made a major difference though and Atkinson must hold his hands up and take a share of the blame for that.

Twitter @youngsunecho

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