Richard Mennear’s SAFC analysis: Sunderland need a more aggressive Plan B to try to turn their tormented season around

Billy Jones rises highest to head clear as Sunderland come under pressure from Arsenal. Picture by Frank Reid
Billy Jones rises highest to head clear as Sunderland come under pressure from Arsenal. Picture by Frank Reid
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On and off the pitch, just where do Sunderland go from here?

Arsenal’s demolition of the Black Cats on Saturday was the lowest point in a season of low points.

Without a win in 10 games, this is now the club’s worst ever start in any division and the worst start witnessed in the Premier League era.

With a quarter of the season gone, the writing looks to already be on the wall.

It is a desperate situation facing David Moyes and his Sunderland squad.

Do they have what it takes to turn it around? On the evidence presented so far, their chances look slim.

Sunderland had showed small signs of progress in the previous two matches – they looked more solid defensively.

But it all fell apart in the space of six-and-a-half devastating second-half minutes against the Gunners.

Yes, Arsenal are fighting for the title and, yes, they had the likes of £9.6million Olivier Giroud to call upon as a sub.

Yet, the way Sunderland allowed Arsenal to dominate was galling for the red and white contingent of the 44,322 supporters inside the Stadium of Light.

With two thirds of the possession, Arsenal were allowed to pass the ball at will, Sunderland didn’t press and runners were not being tracked and pressure invited.

It was too easy for Arsenal, who were allowed to get into their stride from the off.

The opening goal in the 19th minute – Alexis Sanchez beating Lamine Kone in the air to nod home Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross – came on the back of 22 passes, the most passes involved in any Premier League goal this season.

That tells you all you need to know.

Arsene Wenger’s side have only dropped two points away from home all season.

The 4-1-4-1 system and shape was OK, but Sunderland had to get into their faces. They failed to do so.

Middlesbrough pressed Arsenal the weekend before and secured a point at the Emirates.

Against Sunderland, Arsenal should have been out of sight at half-time. Jordan Pickford saved from Mesut Ozil, who later messed up a lob, while Alex Iwobi twice fired over the bar.

Kone, who had showed signs he was getting back to his best against West Ham and Southampton, was poor.

The lack of communication at the back once John O’Shea went off injured was startling. Papy Djilobodji failed to contain Giroud.

Wahbi Khazri also endured an afternoon to forget.

Arsenal should have had a penalty in the 64th minute, Kone brought Sanchez down, but Martin Atkinson waved the appeal away.

Almost immediately, Sunderland were awarded their own. Duncan Watmore nipped in to dispossess Shkodran Mustafi before bursting into the box and rounding Petr Cech, who bundled him over.

Jermain Defoe dispatched his fifth goal to draw Sunderland level. The anxiety levels lifted, and there was hope of a good point.

Sunderland were level for all of six minutes, though.

Giroud, with his first touch, hooked the ball home from a Kieran Gibbs cross. He made it 3-1 in the 76th minute with his second touch, a header.

Arsenal then quickly made it 4-1. Sanchez netting his second from close range, more rank bad defending at fault.

Perhaps club legend Niall Quinn is right, and a change of emphasis is needed. Sunderland struggle to play a passing game from the back, with the quality of passing poor.

Too often, Sunderland concede possession and Defoe is left isolated and frustrated.

Is it time for the Black Cats to go more direct, play Victor Anichebe up front alongside Defoe and get the ball forward quickly. Something has to change. Plan A hasn’t worked all season.

Sunderland have proved over the past four seasons that it is dangerous to write them off, and, with 84 points still to play for, time is just about on their side.

But it took a monumental effort to secure the 39 points needed to stay up last season – and with just two points from 10 games this term, they already need more than a point a game.

With every defeat, the pressure cranks up. On both players and manager David Moyes.

When the fourth Gunners goal went in, fans had seen enough, boos rang out as a significant chunk of supporters left the stadium. There were more boos at full-time from those that remained.

But there were no anti-Moyes chants. Against Southampton in the EFL Cup, his name was sung in a positive manner from the away end.

After 10 games without a win and overseeing the worst start to a season in the club’s history, most managers would be looking over their shoulders.

Naturally, the pressure is growing. And it’s probably best that he doesn’t use social media.

But the 53-year-old was brought in as part of a long-term rebuilding project by Ellis Short, alongside new chief executive Martin Bain.

Clearly, dropping into the Championship is not part of that plan, but there is little appetite from above for yet another managerial change.

Would it solve anything? Would there be a rush of quality applicants given the club’s current plight?

The constant conveyor belt of managers is one of the reasons Sunderland are in this current mess; the cost involved, player turnover and constant fire fighting every transfer window.

There has been no continuity. That has to change at some point.

Moyes is vastly experienced and offers that – his 11-year record at Everton proves he can rebuild a club.

And that is what the squad needs, rebuilding. A complete overhaul.

But in order to achieve that major investment is needed and, with money tight, Sunderland – who recouped just £6.5million for more than a dozen players shipped out in the summer – are restricted by financial fair play regulations.

Results on the pitch will determine how much time Moyes gets, with the club desperate for a win.

The jury remains out on the 10 players Moyes signed in the short space of time before the window closed, having arrived at the back end of July.

Several new faces were needed, though, with the amount of players leaving after either their loan spells ended, contracts expired or faces no longer fit.

Younes Kaboul wanted to be closer to his family in Watford, the Kone saga was a major distraction, the £8.5million price tag for Yann M’Vila too high, while deals for a new striker fell through on deadline day.

It has been one thing after another for Moyes. He has also had to contend with a crippling injury list. The squad wasn’t the strongest to start with.

The injured list has eased, but three key players remain out; Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Fabio Borini.

Sunderland fans just want a team to be proud of.

But at the moment – with little light at the end of the tunnel – it looks to be a long and bumpy road until that point is reached.