Another weekend, another defeat and more baffling tactics and team selections. Pre-match I thoroughly expected us to get beat of Arsenal, so I'm not quite sure why I'm so narked about it now it's actually happened, but here I am. Maybe it will come to me as I write this match report.
Arsenal were very much there for the taking today, and barring one superb freekick we didn't bother them all that much. Was this to be expected though with the 4-6-0/4-5-1 employed? You'd have to say a resounding yes, and you know where the blame lies for that.
Anyway, here's the match report...
When you see the line-ups announced pre-game there's always a grumble. There's always one thing you'd do differently because as fans/pundits/whatever's we all know better it seems, but this one was different. Having seen a similar tactic (in the loosest sense of the term) employed at Brighton with abject failure, every single fan I know was aghast that we're going for it again with just little Stephane up front on his own.
With the team setup to play for a draw, or at the very least not concede, it was imperative we kept the door shut. We did too, for all of 28 seconds before Robin Van Persie fired in the first goal. John O'Shea clumsily coming forward for a tackle which didn't need o be made, Tomas Rosicky playes in Gervinho, he plays in Van Persie inside the are with the freedom of North London, and a confused Simon Mignolet drops to his knees as opposed to attempting to make a save.
Still, earlier this week Bruce had "vowed to attack Arrsenal" so there was hope we could get back into this with our strikeforce of... oh yeah.
Arsenal absolutely dominated the opening twenty minutes. Walcott sending a header straight at Mignolet, Gervinho turning John O'Shea inside out before the ball scrambled away from Gibbs inside the six yard box, whilst Robin Van Persie evoked the spirit of Eric Cantona with a deft chip eluding Mignolet.... Erm, well left Simon.
Still time for RVP to smash one wide before we had our first sighter at goal, Kieran Richardson blazing wide from 30-odd yards.
Following Gervinho's header being headed off the line, we actually broke into the Arsenal half, and the limitations of our lineup exposed badly. There's Stephane Sessegnon, ball at feet with Arsenal defenders panicked... unfortunately he's all alone. A familiar sight in the opening throws of the game.
However we did spark into life from that moment. Sess beat the offside trap and rounded the onrushing Sczezney, played in Lee Cattermole who had bombed forward but sadly he couldn't connect before Alex Song. Some half-hearted appealing for a pass-back ensued.
Then the breakthrough, and perhaps the most undeserving equalizer in football history as Sexy Seb Larsson scorched a stunning freekick into the top corner from all of 30 yards. "Tik A Boo Son" Andy Gray might have said, God rest his soul.
From then it all changed. Holy Smokes Bruceman, we're in the ascendancy! Sessegnon dinking one to the back post for Lee Cattermole who could have made it 2-1 but for a world class save by "The Polish Keeper". Even that little scamp Jack Colback nearly opened his account with a controlled volley which went inches over.
Half-time was confusing. We could have been 3-1 up, but by the same token should possibly have been 3-0 down before Seb's freekick.
The secondhalf was a timid affair. Arsenal had their share of possession, and did little to nothing with it, whilst we looked content with a draw. Just mind-boggling that we finished so strongly, and with Arsenal visibly shaken we gave them a second chance at things.
As said, little really happened in the second half, and broken-toe or not, there was another strange sub by Bruce as he brings on a striker (Ji Dong-Won) for the one player capable of delivery (Sebastian Larsson)
Time wore on, Andrei Arshavin with perhaps the best chance for the hosts of the second half as he waltzed through the defence like it wasn't there before poking wide, whilst Van Persie, Walcott and Arteta all peppered the goal with rubbish freekicks.
The baffling world of Sunderland AFC continuing as we looked fairly solid, yet at the same time seemingly wanted to implode with all the freekicks given away. Surely this wouldn't be our undoing would it? Yes it would.
Freekick awarded right of the goal, and RVP fires one into the top corner. It was a great hit, but not a patch on Seb's. Better freekick, better looking. At least we had that.
Ji Dong-won had the ball in the net as we sort of looked for an equalizer but he was well offside, and as for the rest of the time Arsenal just kept the ball and we allowed them to do so.
Hey, at least we nearly got something. How many points do we get for that again?
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (5); O'Shea (5), Richardson (5), Brown (6), Turner (6); Vaughan (6), Larsson (8), Colback (7), Cattermole (7), Elmohamady (5), Sessegnon (8)
Subs Used: Dong-Won (7), Wickham (5), Gardner (5)
Man Of The Match: Stephane Sessegnon - Toss up between him and Larsson, but for working his backside off in a very difficult lone role, he did well. Top marks to Larsson too who was at the heart of anything we did creatively, but for unexpected top draw play, Sess wins the day.
And so we're all done. I said at the top I wasn't sure why I was so aggrieved, but I am, and it's mainly down to one man and his absurd decision making. Not to mention the insult to our collective intelligence post-match with "we've only played badly once this season"... do me a lemon Steve, I think maybe you mean "today" not "this season".
I can't get my head round some of the decisions made by the manager any more, and to be honest, I've given up trying, it's beyond comprehension and reasonable thought.
Still, expect him to be in charge when we travel to the Reebok Stadium next weekend, and I do hope you enjoy another week of backslapping that we 'did alright' and 'nearly got a point'. I know I can't bloody wait.
Here's hoping for a (very) early Christmas present from Uncle Ellis, til then though it's probably still all our fault for expecting too much, isn't it Steve?