Football Echo Verdict: Mess rehearsal for hapless Sunderland

Arsenal's Per Mertesacker steps in to deny Sunderland's Fabio Borini
Arsenal's Per Mertesacker steps in to deny Sunderland's Fabio Borini
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THE SUGGESTION from Gus Poyet in his pre-match press conference was that the trip to the Emirates would be the perfect preparation for the Capital One Cup final.

Well, this was more of an exhibition match than dress rehearsal.

If Sunderland were striving to suggest that eyes were not already drifting towards Wembley, then this was the most spectacular failure to dismiss those theories.

Arsenal can rarely have enjoyed a more comfortable afternoon on their own turf all season, as Sunderland produced tepid and timid first-half display which smacked of players wanting to ensure they were fit and available for next weekend.

What are the “must-not-do’s” at Arsenal?

Concede an early goal. Check.

Sit deep and give Arsenal time on the ball. Check.

Fail to resist the Gunners with any pressing or physical bite. Check.

Let the Gunners get in behind you. Check.

Make kamikaze defensive errors. Check.

Perhaps the Sunderland boss didn’t help himself by leaving Lee Cattermole out of the 18 entirely, to ensure the midfielder would be available to take the place of the cup-tied Liam Bridcutt at Wembley.

Poyet clearly had part of his mind cast towards the final.

But it was no excuse for such a woefully lacklustre opening 45 minutes.

Arsenal went through the motions of their well-tuned passing machine, as the one-two’s down the flanks and on the edge of the area continually found red shirts, while Sunderland were left ball watching.

Jack Colback seemed to be the only Sunderland player who grasped the importance of pressing, yet it was impossible for him to do it all on his own. The visitors needed to be hunting in packs.

Even when Sunderland did get a touch, their lack of composure - coupled with Arsenal’s closing down - forced the Black Cats to break Poyet’s sacred rule by going aimlessly long, where Laurent Koscileny was the unanimous winner in the aerial battle against Jozy Altidore.

Poyet bellowed his criticism of that ploy, but Sunderland went the other way as Santiago Vergini produced a suicidally blind back pass to gift Olivier Giroud a second.

Fair play to Arsenal. Their third goal was a thing of beauty and put the stamp on Arsenal’s inevitable victory.

Even though Sunderland produced another harrowing defensive moment in the second half - when Phil Bardsley and John O’Shea were both watching Per Mertesacker to allow Koscielny to nod home unmarked - the Black Cats were vastly improved.

Poyet had clearly read the riot act and there was a reaction.

But more importantly than not throwing in the towel, the Uruguayan will have learned plenty about his troops when facing one of the Premier League’s title-chasers.

What seemed to be a fairly settled XI in the cup final, suddenly doesn’t seem to assured.

Wes Brown will almost certainly return in place of Vergini, who endured a traumatic afternoon. What Poyet believed to be a selection dilemma suddenly isn’t so worrying.

The place of Altidore now looks under firm scrutiny too.

Sunderland were far more threatening after the half-time introduction of Emanuele Giaccherini, which allowed Fabio Borini to play down the middle.

Giaccherini wasted a couple of opportunities, but the 28-year-old was hungry, always on the move and scored a beautiful consolation goal to boot.

If anything good did come out of an afternoon at the Emirates, that was the sum total of it.

Twitter @youngsunecho

* Don’t miss the Echo’s souvenir Capital One Cup final Football Echo special – it’s out on Tuesday.

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