Arsenal face off against Sunderland tomorrow in Premier League action, hoping to bounce back after a disappointing performance against Middlesbrough last weekend. To better understand our opponents this weekend, we got in touch with our pals at Roker Report who were generous enough to give a couple different viewpoints on their club’s current situation. Thanks to Damian Brown (you can find him on Twitter @Rastrentish) and Graham MacMillan-Mason (@Nightmar3s23) for their answers!
David Moyes was brought in this summer with the hope of breaking the recent cycle of Sunderland clawing their way out of relegation at the end of every season. So far, the results have not been good (2 pts, 6 league goals in 9 matches). How do Sunderland fans, generally speaking, feel about Moyes so far? Are the struggles largely his fault, structural club issues, or a relatively equal mixture of both?
Damian: I think David Moyes has a CV that any club seeking mid table stability would find desirable and while his tactics at times have ranged from eyebrow raising to utterly flabbergasting he has, in no small part, been able to blame the lack of depth in our current squad for some of those bad decisions. While many fans would always disagree and call for the manager to be sacked/supported regardless of performances, there are a growing number of us developing the feeling that the infrastructure of the whole club is haphazard to say the least. Those "in the know" could even give you examples of why the club is so poorly led and who is at fault but generally for the majority of fans the buck stops with the manager. That being said the huge injury list, a transfer window that was nothing short of sabotage by the FA in poaching our manager for what is now, in hindsight, the shortest tenure ever, and a massive, crippling debt have all led to this end.
Graham: Personally, I'm not a fan. I don't feel he fits the remit of a successful Sunderland manager. His character and interviews are a bit dour, and I've always been a fan of characters managing the football club - someone you can believe in and someone you can see the players are inspired by. Sam Allardyce, Peter Reid. That type of bloke. Although I don't think he's the right man, the problems go a lot higher. I would agree and say it's a question of both. Wrong decisions time and time again on recruitment, direction, and constant managerial change haven't helped. I think there's a lot more to blame than Moyes, but I still don't think he's the right man for a club like us.
What were your thoughts on Sunderland's business in the transfer market this summer at the time? Have any of the new arrivals changed your mind on your initial evaluation?
Damian: Business? What business!? Oh! You mean Didier Ndong don't you, the one with the funny sounding name. Well where to begin? Following on from my previous reference to the FA giving our new manager barely two weeks in which to navigate such an epically unbalanced transfer window, this year of all years, I can categorically say that we bought no players capable of fitting straight in the first team. A combined 6 million for McNair and Love saw fans scratching their heads but still optimistic, thinking "surely these are just a couple of young lads Moyes has worked with, knows they're underrated at Man U and they'll make good squad players maybe." Sadly not.
McNair being marginally the better of the two, albeit in separate positions, neither have shown Premier League quality play or even really been given that much opportunity to settle in because of their early poor form. Then we bought Ndong who has been quite simply awful in the last two games he started after a shaky but promising start with us, unable to pass a ball and not able to understand the concept of moving it forward, giving away possession every times he's on it. He's been dire recently and we broke our record fee signing him.
Mika, a free agent signed in panic when Mannone injured his elbow, looks and plays like a Blue Peter presenter. Nuff said. And then there's the towering goalscoring powerhouse that is Victor Anichebe, completely unprepared for the season and requiring over a month to gain any semblance of match fitness. His talents, for what they are, have yet to be given 90 minutes or a semi-relaxed 30 with a couple of goals as a buffer for him to take his time. Jury is still out on whether he'll be of any use to us. I would say the best signing was [Steven] Pienaar. At 35, he's no spring chicken but he's small, he isn't off the pace, and his possession and distribution in midfield give us some of the only calm moments we have in that area these days, I think he's a bargain on a free if we can squeeze a good season out of him.
Graham: Pretty awful to be honest. The way that we ended the season, we needed to continue on in the same vein. Signing up Yann M'Vila was a no brainer yet it never happened. Even DeAndre Yedlin would have been a good shout just for that closeness and continuity we had towards the end of last season. Allardyce leaving was a massive blow, you can't blame Moyes et all for that.
However, he had built a decent structure and plan around the club and Moyes tore it all up and spent money on players for the future like McNair, Ndong and Love when we needed the loan players back and further quality on top of that. The amount of injuries we've had have depleted us further to the point where we have literally no midfield, and Moyes is saying the team is inexperienced, well... you spent our budget on those players! I'm not sure any of the summer signings have impressed me. I like Pienaar, but he's hardly fit and about 35. Ndong, [Javier] Manquillo, [Papy] Djilobodji, and [Adnan] Januzaj have struggled.
What has to happen, in your opinion, for Sunderland to pull off the upset tomorrow? What do you think the scoreline will be?
Damian: To cause an upset tomorrow, Arsenal have to underestimate our players and in turn our players need to be mentally defensively resilient to Arsenal's pace and creativity. Short of that, although any team can beat another on a good day, I can't see us getting anything out of it unless we see an unaccountably refreshed and focused team with a few old heads in there to at least put up a fight. We're really missing characters to the point that if the goal we need isn't coming from our only genuine scorers Defoe or to a lesser extent Patrick van Aanholt, I might as well say it'll be Pickford or John O'Shea, both are equally unlikely. I think Arsenal will win 3-0.
Graham: Well, if Vito Mannone is fit and the rules change for us to play two goalkeepers, you never know! In all seriousness, some passion from the players and a good hard tackle in the opening 10 minutes might stoke the crowd up and roar us on to a battling point. However we are all a pretty depressed bunch right now and the players seemingly aren't arsed anymore, so I can't see it happening. If we managed to get to 70 mins without conceding, or on level terms, anything can happen, but I would expect a simple 0-3 win for Arsenal.