Sunderland boss heartened by the strength of his squad, despite Arsenal loss

Duncan Watmore
Duncan Watmore
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Sunderland’s ability to cope without three key figures has encouraged Sam Allardyce about the strength of the Black Cats squad.

Allardyce was dealt a blow on the eve of Sunderland’s 3-1 weekend defeat at Arsenal after Lee Cattermole suffered a recurrence of his back problem in training on Friday.

The lads who stepped in gave a very, very good performance and showed very well

Sam Allardyce

Cattermole joined Seb Larsson and Jermain Defoe on the treatment table, albeit the latter should return for this Saturday’s visit of Watford.

But while the recalled Fabio Borini was poor in his first start since October – missing a golden opportunity early on and almost gifting Arsenal a goal in first-half stoppage time – Ola Toivonen and Duncan Watmore both impressed.

It was by far Toivonen’s best performance under Allardyce’s tenure, while Watmore put the Arsenal defence on the back foot throughout, with the 21-year-old more influential than on his first Premier League start against Southampton last month.

Allardyce said: “With players like Lee Cattermole, Jermain Defoe and Seb Larsson missing, the lads who stepped in gave a very, very good performance and showed very well.

“That encourages me about the squad depth.

“If they can play like that when we’ve got players missing, they have to have the same determination between now and the end of the season.

“Performance-wise, I’m very satisfied. I thought they were very, very good against an Arsenal team that is always difficult to play against.”

Arsenal had a host of key players missing themselves, with the absence of latest injury victims Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla particularly telling.

Allardyce believes it was a combination of the vulnerability of an Arsenal side who hadn’t won in their previous three games, plus Sunderland’s excellent performance, which contributed to the Black Cats’ showing so well, despite the 3-1 defeat.

“Maybe they were a little edgy because they hadn’t won in three, and they’ve got their own injury problems,” he added. “But, saying that, we had ours, with three key players out. It didn’t affect our performance that much.

“In fact I think it’s probably our best performance since I’ve been here. So that’s encouraging, for me, on the strength of the squad. Arsenal were a bit jittery at times and we had the opportunity to punish them.

“Because we didn’t punish them, as always at this level of football, you pay the price and we paid the price.”