How many of you like the humble pie. You’ll not be surprised to hear I love them. This was the footballing equivalent of a quorn pie, or a cheese and onion pasty. Devoid of meat and gravy there was something lacking. The fare did not satisfy the appetite that had been created for it.
Just before half-time I said in another place that we were almost brilliant, that Sunderland were almost competitive, and that this was almost a good game, but not quite. The second-half served up more of the same.
It became increasingly clear that one goal could well be enough to settle it, and I suppose it was not a complete surprise when we conceded it in the centre of the goal from a set piece. Although there was an element of fortune in the way the ball found its way into the gap that should not exist between goalkeeper and central defenders, there was no doubt Sunderland had earned the opportunity and Bent, of all people, finished.
That the hosts were in a position to take the points I think owed a great deal to the absence of Robin van Persie, and one absentee should not make such a difference. On Tuesday night against Liege Arsene will need to look long and hard at the current set up, be it 4-1-4-1, or 4-3-3 (it matters not) and decide if it can work with a poacher, rather than an all-rounder, at the spearhead.
Before you think I have turned into a pessimist in one afternoon, I haven’t. However, Eduardo appears not to be a physical specimen capable of playing with his back to goal and bringing others into the game, which is an important part of the role in this system.
The other fit, or nearly fit, candidates are similarly challenged, dimensionally. Before we take on Chelsea in what has become a very significant encounter next Sunday there may be a need to temporarily revert to a more traditional system. If Diaby is recovered we may need to consider him as a stand-in front-line partner for Eduardo or Theo Walcott.
I’m aware that this has turned more into a preview of upcoming games than a review of the reversal at Sunderland, but in so many ways the next two fixtures dwarf this one. We were not the shambolic side that surrendered points last season. A lack of effort was not a contributory factor to this defeat. We just didn’t find that killer touch that has been evident in most of our other fixtures this season, and for the first time we could say to the opponents, ‘You beat us fair and square, no complaints.’
I’m not about to get all negative on the side over one reversal. My degree of pessimism may be increased if we do not adjust the set-up to suit the available players if my suspicions are founded, but frankly I may be guilty of misjudging what was just a bad day at the office.
To make amends I have just stuck a pie in the oven that contains both of the staple foods necessary to sustain life.
Steak and Guinness.
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