Sunderland fan blog: January will be a key month but Cats can be proud of Arsenal showing

For Sunderland, the fact that they were able to compete on this stage was a step forward, at the very least.

In a cup run that started 134 days ago with a nervy 2-1 victory over Port Vale, the Black Cats made their loyal supporters proud of the club once again, with a more than memorable journey that concluded in an even more memorable night at the Emirates.

Sunderland have been on a hideous demise over the last couple of years but this cup run has put the Black Cats on the footballing map once again.

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And make no mistake, Sunderland were never humiliated against an Arsenal side that are currently flying in the Premier League.

Sunderland were beaten at Arsenal.

The scoreline may show a 5-1 thumping but for large parts Sunderland held their nerve and were heavily still within the contest.

There was always going to be a quality difference between the two sides and ultimately that Premier League quality exposed the League One frailties.

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Only four years ago, Sunderland were competing against this level of opposition on a weekly basis but now Lee Johnson’s side travelled to the Emirates as the clear underdogs in a clash that heavily favoured the Gunners.

Yet, Sunderland never stuttered – they kept plugging away and produced a remarkable counter-attack, which halved the deficit and sent the travelling away support into delirium.

The interception from Dan Neil on Smith Rowe, the pass from Elliot Embleton and the finish from Nathan Broadhead all encapsulated the model Lee Johnson’s working on.

And the Black Cats began to dominate.

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Winchester came close before the interval, before Embleton struck the outside of the left post, after Eddie Nketiah made it three-one, but it’s these moments that are ultimately punished at Premier League level.

Johnson described the defeat post-match, as one of the “greatest learning experiences” that his side could have.

The removal of Broadhead before half-time makes January even more pivotal for Johnson and added with the likely departure of Frederik Alves, it’s going to be a telling month.

Bring in new recruits and Sunderland will be fine but fail to add significant personnel and they may have a difficult last run-in.