Friday spotlight: Sunderland boss Di Canio’s tactical prowess faces moment of truth

Emanuele Giaccherini will have a key role tomorrow
Emanuele Giaccherini will have a key role tomorrow
Have your say

THERE has been much talk about revolution under Paolo Di Canio in recent days and weeks – much of it coming from the Italian himself.

But tomorrow, at the Stadium of Light, is when we might actually SEE the first real signs of it on the pitch.

Arsenal’s visit to Sunderland promises to be a game you can’t take your eyes off, and for good reason – with Di Canio making arguably his boldest move yet as Black Cats manager.

And by the end of the 90 minutes, we should have a much clearer picture of the direction that the man at the helm is looking to take the club in.

That’s because Di Canio made it clear in his Press conference with the Echo yesterday that he has no intention of sending a Sunderland team out tomorrow solely to contain and counteract Arsenal’s undoubted strengths.

Instead, he plans to fight fire with fire, setting out aggressively on home soil to take the battle to the Gunners with his 4-2-4 formation.

In doing so, he will eschew the paths of previous Sunderland bosses Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill, who always played five across the middle against Arsenal, even though their natural inclination was always to play with two strikers.

I remember asking O’Neill once if he had not been tempted to go two up front against an Arsenal team at the Stadium of Light, late in the game, on a day when the Gunners’ rearguard looked particularly vulnerable.

The Irishman was too much of a gentleman to go for the withering put-down, but he gently made it perfectly clear that he thought it madness at any stage of a game not to match up against Arsenal’s five-man midfield.

In doing so, he echoed the view of predecessor Bruce, who once said to the Echo: “If you don’t match up man-for-man against Arsenal’s midfield they’ll rip you to pieces.

“They’re such good players, they move it so freely, that unless you play your five against their five, they’ll just play right through you.”

Both Bruce and O’Neill subscribed to that viewpoint, but tomorrow Sunderland fans can expect to see a different approach.

And we are likely to find out by tomorrow night whether Di Canio’s adventurous approach is a case of him being naive in the extreme, or whether it will prove to be an example of fortune favouring the brave.

If Arsenal hit their straps under £42million man Mesut Ozil, then it could be a cricket score against Di Canio’s embattled troops, with the visitors enjoying the freedom of the centre of the park.

But if Sunderland start on the front foot and the expected strike pairing of Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore clicks under the backing of wingers Emanuele Giaccherini and Adam Johnson, then we might just see an epic footballing clash rather than the usual Black Cats rearguard action.

You might have expected Di Canio to cut something of a beleaguered figure in Press conferences this week after one point in nine taken from three of the Premier League’s lesser lights, and the criticism he and the club have consequently taken.

Not a bit of it.

The Italian remains as positive and as confident as ever and he will take that positivity and confidence into the Arsenal game.

So maybe tomorrow we’ll get a glimpse of the new Sunderland Di Canio is trying to fashion.

The match will be about two contrasting philosophies of football – Sunderland’s 4-2-4 against Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 – but it will also be about two teams united in their belief in the value of attacking, entertaining football.

And if there’s only one thing that can be guaranteed, it is likely to be that, for the first time in years, Arsene Wenger will not be giving a post-match Press conference after a Sunderland game complaining about the Black Cats “parking the bus”.

By tomorrow night we will all be in a better position to judge whether it’s a case of “fools rush in” or “he who dares, wins”.

Twitter @sunechograeme