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Big Performances Needed - Is It Time For Rodwell And Johnson To Step Up?

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Because of the car crash that was last weekend's performance against Southampton Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson could very well be presented with an opportunity to reclaim their places in Gus Poyet's starting eleven this weekend against Arsenal.

Richard Heathcote

Don't get me wrong, I think (and have thought so since he first arrived at the club this summer) that Jack Rodwell will not show us just what he is truly capable of until some time has passed and he's been able to readjust to playing regular first team football week in, week out. When a young player has missed the majority of two seasons, due to a variety of reasons - injury and just not being selected being the main two - it's fairly difficult to pin too much expectation on him, regardless of how much it cost to bring him to the club.

Thus far, that point has rang particularly true - his goal against Manchester United aside, life as a Sunderland player for Jack Rodwell has began relatively slowly. Is he 'match fit'? Who knows. He certainly doesn't see many games out until the very end. You can understand Gus Poyet being protective of the player, because the investment made in him requires the manager to do so. Pushing him too early could well result in another spell on the sidelines due to injury that many have envisaged will inevitably happen, with Rowell's career to date being marred by a series of niggling hamstring issues.

On the other side of the coin is Adam Johnson, a player clearly capable of doing magical things with a football but just doesn't do it very often, much to the dissatisfaction to the people that pay to watch him play every week. The way he turned the Tottenham defence inside out last month to score our leveler was an example of just what that man can do if he really tries. It was the type of thing he'd do when a younger, hungrier talent at Middlesbrough that lead to him earning a big money move to Manchester City, eventually representing England. Is Johnson scarred from being nothing more than a victim of stockpiling at Eastlands? His inability to perform at a high level on a weekly basis would certainly suggest that is the case. His purple patch at the beginning of this year appeared to be the beginning of a new start for the winger, but his superb performances slowly dropped off the scale after the promise of an England call up never materialised.

With the first team seemingly on its arse after the decimation on Saturday at St Mary's, Gus Poyet needs to be able to turn to Johnson and Rodwell, two players that started the game as substitutes, and trust that they can prove just why they shouldn't be warming the bench more often. In a squad largely void of proven quality and 'game changers', Poyet has two players he's able to introduce into the fold against Arsenal that could, and should, ensure that Sunderland aren't on the end of another spanking against a side that, on paper, will be widely expected to turn up and give us a good hiding.

It's time that both players - Johnson especially - stepped forward and showed just why this club spent the best part of two transfer budgets in order to bring them to the club. Managers have come and gone whilst Adam Johnson has been a Sunderland player but only one has been able to get him to produce anywhere near the level that we expected when he was signed and that is Gus Poyet. And, while Gus might be prepared to pull out the white flag from time to time in order to place emphasis on the fact he's just not got the required levels of personnel in his ranks to propel his side further up the league, he does have two England internationals sitting on his bench.

I mentioned this in another piece the other day but I feel that, in the case of Jack Rodwell, it's very relevant. I recently read Jimmy Bullard's book in which he talks rather extensively about his issues with serious injuries over the years and the biggest problem that he faced once his various rehabilitation had completed was that mentally he found it very tough to play with the same mindlessness that he had done before he blew his knee out. Whilst your body might be repaired, your mind struggles to overcome those hurdles - 'what if I am injured again?' 'How much time away from playing regularly can I afford?' Now - and I'm only speculating - but it could well be that now that Rodwell finds himself presented with a chance to be a first team footballer again in the Premier League that he fears fully committing himself in games just incase he hurts himself and ends up having to deal with another injury. It's been made no secret of that Jack had suffered horrifically with hamstring problems - an injury caused mainly by over-stretching and sprinting - and that it's ultimately what hindered his progress when at Manchester City. Darren Campbell - who worked with Rodwell on his running technique in order to help avoid further issues down the line - spoke about him on talkSPORT recently and remarked that mentally he struggles with adjusting, in fear that the next injury is only around the corner. How much has this played on his mind whilst a Sunderland player? Who knows. All I can say is that thus far, in my eyes, he's not shown us just what he's capable of. It could well be a contributing factor.

Traditionally - at least in my eyes, anyways - we always seem to do better when the bigger sides face us. Well, at least since Poyet arrived we have. The best way to possibly react to last week's disaster is to beat Arsenal, or at least perform convincingly enough that it gives us hope going forward that we aren't going to be involved in yet another relegation battle. Our big players must react first and step up. Rodwell and Johnson won't have a better platform to establish themselves than on Saturday - don't bloody waste it, eh?