Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0

Possibly the most painful week of Arsene Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal came to a disastrous end at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland struck in either half to sink the Gunners’ FA Cup dreams for another season. It was another bitter pill for the Gunners to swallow and coming on top of their virtual elimination in the Champions League with the 4-0 first leg thrashing at Milan, many are coming to the conclusion that this is possibly the worst Arsenal side that Wenger has had in his 15 years in England.

 

Wenger laments FA Cup exit

 

Bundled

The familiar theme of recent Arsenal losses was evident from the start. Having demonstrated dominance and some excellent openings from Robin Van Persie and Gervinho, Sunderland took the lead through Kieran Richardson. On a poor pitch, it was one that the home side were to double in the second half when the unfortunate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain inadvertently bundled the ball past his own ‘keeper after a swift Sunderland counter-attack.

Judgement

It was cruel on the Arsenal 18 year old, but perhaps a lesson that he will have time to learn from. Come another Gunners’ match and come another injury or two. This time Francis Coquelin and substitute Sebastien Squillaci picked up knocks, and would it be cruel to suggest that in the case of the latter that is a plus? Squillaci is a poor player, and for a central defender who can’t tackle, head or actually play the game that he purports to make his living from smacks of poor judgement by Wenger, who must realise that he cannot continue do things on the cheap.

Deflected

With the interval fast approaching, it was Thomas Vermaelen’s extremely poor headed clearance from Sebastien Larsson’s free-kick that fell for Richardson the hit a shot that deflected off Squillaci past Lukasz Fabianksi. Robin Van Persie was unable to carve anything of note, and when he did find the target, Simon Mignolet was finding his best form to save. Returning from the African Cup of Nations, Gervinho was able to find the target, but once again Mignolet was up to the job.

Evidence

With the scores 0-0, Arsenal had a clear penalty shout not given when John O’Shea hacked down Van Persie, but Howard Webb was to get that decision horribly wrong, and that slice of bad luck would come to cost Wenger and his side. The Gunners are better than this performance would suggest, but there is something that Wenger and his inexperienced players cannot get the better of, and that has been in evidence ever since last season’s Carling Cup final loss.

Concern

With Per Mertersacker, Laurent Koscielny among the defensive absentees, Johan Djourou was again called on to step up his game, but once again he was found wanting. Among the many concerns for Wenger is the form of Vermalen, who once again was asked to fill out at left back. The paucity of the midfield is another concern. Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey appear to play as if a group of strangers, and it is Wenger who has brought about that scenario by not replacing quality departures with quality arrivals.

Cheque book

After their exertions in travel to Milan, the near 5,000 who made the trip to the Stadium of Light on back to back week-ends will be wondering when this nightmare scenario is going to end. Wenger needs to implore the Board to get the cheque book out. For a manager not used to being told what to do, and Board so hopelessly out of sync with affairs of the pitch, that however may be easier said than done