Sunderland 1 Arsenal 0

FOR someone who was labelled a managerial genius before Arsenal’s visit to Wearside, Arsene Wenger didn’t seem to know much about Sunderland on Saturday night. More specifically, the Sunderland under Steve Bruce.

Having witnessed his Arsenal team, who were unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions and boasting the best scoring return after 13 matches since the Premier League’s inception, defeated by Darren Bent’s potent winner 19 minutes from time, Wenger showed little respect for Sunderland.

“It’s very difficult to measure whether they have improved from last season,” said the Frenchman, knowing the Black Cats narrowly avoided relegation after a year of struggle.

“They were organised to defend against us. You will have to judge them when they play against a team of their level, where they will have to make the game and build the game up, where you expect them to dominate.”

It was hardly a glowing tribute to the work carried out by Bruce in his first six months in charge and Wenger’s assessment didn’t improve.

“Sunderland tried more to destroy and we had more of the ball, so they tried to stop us from playing, sometimes on the fringe of the rules, but that’s part of the game,” he added.

But what Wenger appears to have missed is that Bruce has intended from day one to introduce a steel and desire that mirrors North-East passion and that was exactly what this performance was about.

Sunderland have played better this season and come away from matches with nothing.

Against Arsenal, though, they successfully stifled the threat of an attacking quartet that had been expensively assembled, even if it was bereft of Robin van Persie.

Van Persie has been in Serbia in the last week, having the placenta of a horse massaged into his injured ankle ligaments in a bid to reduce the six weeks he is expected to be out. On this evidence Arsenal need the Dutchman back on the gallops as quickly as possible.

But to suggest that was the only reason Sunderland won this match would be grossly unfair.

Wenger still had renowned internationals Eduardo, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas for creativity – and then brought on Russian Andrey Arshavin when the scoreline was still goalless.

Clear-cut chances were few and far between for both teams, with neither goalkeeper making a string of saves. The difference was that Bent, who has now scored against all of the Premier League’s big four, was on hand to fire high into Manuel Almunia’s net to separate the two.

Bruce punched the air with delight at the final whistle after climbing within a point of fourth place, but having endured frustrating defeats at Burnley, Birmingham and Stoke, he is not taking anything for granted.

“I have just said to them if we do not perform at Wigan next Saturday I will kick all their arses and they can walk home,”

said Bruce. “That was the first thing I said when they came off the pitch. That’s the disappointment (poor results after a good one).

“But we are going into December and I can only think of Burnley in the second half and Birmingham when we have not played well, so two out of 13 suggests we are starting to get some consistency.

“The most important thing is our performances at home. Last year, it was a big, big struggle.

Last year, we only won six here.

We have won five already.”

Two of those were against Arsenal and Liverpool.

Having also drawn against second-placed Manchester United and lost earlier in the season to Chelsea, Sunderland are proving to be a barometer in the Premier League title race.

What is the secret of Bruce’s success?

“I always think, not taking anything away from us, with the big teams, if you get them after an international break or European game when they have been to the other end of Europe, that takes off a little edge,” said the Sunderland boss.

“I still believe Arsenal are a fantastic football team.

Whether they are going to be title contenders, who knows?

“But they will certainly be there or thereabouts. They are the top scorers in the division away from home so you have to give a bit of credit to our lads.”

When Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop had to be alert to deny Rosicky in the opening five minutes, Arsenal were passing the ball around nicely and looked intent on a routine win.

But Sunderland have not established themselves in the top eight this season by rolling over and from that moment the Gunners never looked winning, which has left them eight points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

Steed Malbranque had wasted two similar efforts when he was left unmarked at the back post.

But Arsenal were not as fortunate when Bent powered Sunderland ahead in the 71st minute.

With the decibels among the near 45,000 crowd rising after a number of crunching tackles from the unfazed Jordan Henderson and their outstanding captain Lorik Cana, Sunderland earned a corner.

Andy Reid swung it over.

Bent’s attempted header on goal glanced off the knee of substitute Fraizer Campbell before bouncing nicely for his team-mate to slide in and fire the winner in from inside six yards.

And while Arshavin looked like sealing a point in the final moments, sliding in at the back post to find the side netting after Alex Song’s delivery, Sunderland emerged to claim three points for the first time since the beach ball-affected win over Liverpool in mid-October.

“We have had to change the team’s mentality,” said Bruce, after Sunderland beat Arsenal for the first time since Niall Quinn’s winner in 2000. “Am I ahead of schedule? Well I would have taken it at the start of the season.

“Thankfully, the lads I have brought in have hit the ground running, and all made major contributions.

“But make no mistake, I have inherited some good players.

“There is a bit of belief and the boys I have brought in have certainly helped the cause.”

Arsenal did have a penalty appeal waved away in injurytime, when Campbell appeared to trip Mexican striker Carlos Vela and both managers disagreed with the outcome.

In the end it was Bruce who was spot on, leaving Wenger frustrated.

Match facts


1-0: Bent (71, powered high into the Arsenal net after latching on to Campbell’s miscontrol) Bookings: Bardsley (84, foul); Traore (90, foul); Richardson (90, unsporting behaviour)

Referee: Alan Wiley (Burntwood) – could have given a penalty in the last moments to Arsenal, but didn’t 6

Attendance: 44, 918

Entertainment: ✰✰✰

SUNDERLAND (4-4-1-1):

7 Fulop: Denied Rosicky early on but was rarely seriously tested after that;

7 Bardsley: Will prove difficult to replace when suspended and the Scotland international call should not take too long to come

6 Mensah: Looked short of match fitness but still threw himself into things 7

Da Silva: Composed and assured alongside Mensah in the absence of Turner 7

McCartney: Did well to keep the attacking minded Sagna at bay;

6 Malbranque: Wasted a couple of early opportunities to put Sunderland ahead

8 Henderson: Out-muscled Fabregas a couple of times to highlight the progress he is making

8 CANA: It is little wonder Bruce was quick to install the wholehearted Albanian as his captain

7 Reid: May not have reached the heights he has previously but still a nuisance to the Gunners defence;

6 Richardson: Linked well with Bent without really being a major threat to Arsenal;

7 Bent: Seven days after his Brazil outing, the striker grabbed goal number nine of the season.


Campbell (for Malbranque 66): Fortuitous touch led to Bent’s winner five minutes after coming on 6 Zenden (for Reid 78) Ferdinand (for Mensah 82) (not used): Carson, Healy, Murphy, Nosworthy.

ARSENAL (4-3-2-1): Almunia 7; Sagna 5, Vermaelen 7, Gallas 7, Traore 6; Ramsey 6 (Arshavin 5), Song 6, FABREGAS 7; Rosicky 5 (Walcott 72), Nasri 5; Eduardo 4 (Vela 72). Subs (not used): Denilson, Silvestre, Mannone, Eboue.


LORIK Cana – the former Marseille skipper slotted straight back into the mix to drive Sunderland to victory.