In my preview for the Sunderland game yesterday I emphasised how much of a massive test this was for us.
With our usual form after International breaks, Sunderland’s improvement this season and their ability to take on the biggest sides (as Liverpool and Manchester United will testify) I firmly believed that for us to be considered true title contenders, this was a game we had to win.
And as I said in the preview, I would have been more than happy with a smash-and-grab as long as we took home all 3 points.
The reason for this was because to be title challengers a team needs to know how to win ugly. When Arsenal are on top form then we can beat anybody. But you just knew that with the International break, the injuries to key players like Van Persie and the cold and wet away day we were up against it. And the sad thing was if we had managed to overcome all these obstacles then it really would have answered all those questions and given us a massive lift. A win at Sunderland would have pushed the side forwards and onto greater things.
But unfortunately, we weren’t good enough and lost another away game.
People laughed when I said this was a massive game but it appears Arsene Wenger feels the same too. The great Arsenal sides that won titles found great strength through adversity. The team would grind out results no matter the circumstances, and for our current squad Sunderland was that test. You didn’t hear excuses about International breaks or injuries when we went the entire Premier League campaign unbeaten did you?
After the game, Arsene Wenger said:
“It was very harsh to lose the game because Sunderland did not create a lot. But we did not create enough chances either and there was a lack of penetration.
“They were organised and defended very well and we lacked the sharpness to make a difference. In some positions we were not strong enough.
“It is a massive setback because you need consistency to win a title. And today we were not capable of doing that and it raises question marks.”
If you ever listen to Arsene Wenger interviews then that last sentence is damning. We might be third in the table, and we might be doing better than Liverpool or Manchester City but right now it’s a two-horse race, and unfortunately for us it’s between Chelsea and Manchester United – just like Alex Ferguson said earlier this week.
Arsene knows how big a setback this defeat is.
Every team goes through good and bad patches, but the top teams win however they’re playing. Both Chelsea and United have played awful and brilliant this season but they are so consistent. If they play well, they’ll win, and if they play poor, they’ll still win.
Arsenal need to learn how to win ugly and learn fast because that is the only real obstacle in our race for the title. We have improved leaps and bounds over the last 12 months but we’re just that little bit short of being right up there.
And Arsene knows it.