Arsenal and Sunderland may be poles apart geographically, but they have plenty in common at present. They both occupied lowly league positions ahead of their Sunday clash, with Arsenal in 15th sat just above Sunderland in 16th. Both sides also lost key players in the summer and used the money to overhaul their respective squads. Arsene Wenger and Steve Bruce both find themselves under pressure as they struggle to integrate a large number of new recruits to make a cohesive whole. Ultimately, expectations are not being met and sooner or later, something has to give.
For someone with apparent distaste for the transfer market, Wenger was involved in 30 moves in and out of the club this summer, with nine players signed, ten leaving on loan and eleven leaving permanently. He has also had to endure a spate of injuries. Jack Wilshere will be out until the new year, Thomas Vermaelen has suffered a series of injuries and Bacary Sagna recently broke his leg. Although the overall standard of his squad has declined, he has greater strength in depth at his disposal and when the absentees return, there is still has a wealth of talent to call upon.
Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis provided a staunch public defence of Wenger, claiming that suggestions that his position is under threat are “nonsense”
Steve Bruce is struggling as Sunderland have won only one of their first seven games. Niall Quinn’s decision to step aside to allow owner Ellis Short to take over as chairman is also believed to have weakened his position, with Bruce and Short sharing a fractious relationship. The departures of Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan coupled with the inability to bed in his new recruits has cranked up the pressure on Bruce, who remains committed to the cause. “I hope that people still have faith in me, I know people will be questioning me, of course they are. But I’m a determined, resilient, horrible so-and-so and I will try my utmost to turn it around.”
Robin Van Persie dominated proceedings on and off the pitch, scoring twice in a 2-1 win to take his goal tally to six for the season, but also by using the matchday programme to declare his continued commitment to the club. “I am committed to Arsenal. I am captain, and fans should not believe everything they read,” explained Van Persie, before taking to the field and opening the scoring after just 29 seconds. Former Gunner Sebastian Larsson levelled, curling in a free kick from 25 yards before Van Persie repeated the feat eight minutes from time to seal victory.
Steve Bruce was left rueing missed chances that could have given his side the lead at half time and Arsene Wenger confirmed that: “after Sunderland equalised you could feel the confidence is still wobbling a little bit.” Expectations may differ, but both Arsenal and Sunderland will be expected to show signs of improvement in the coming weeks. Steve Bruce’s job and Arsene Wenger’s reputation may depend on it.
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