When I was selecting a game against Arsenal to reminisce about, a few games jumped out at me. Stan Varga’s debut, the 1-1 draw in 2008 where an overwhelmed Grant Leadbitter almost gave us the win and a 1-0 victory in November 2009 were all contenders.
But for me, one game against the Gunners stands out in recent years - the 2-0 FA cup victory in February 2012. Usually when Sunderland beat a member of the traditional top four, it’s a backs to the wall job with some last ditch defending getting the lads over the line. But this game was different and we thoroughly deserved our win. From a personal view point, this was the game that genuinely made me believe we were in for a good thing under Martin O’Neill. The positivity around the club seemed infectious, on the day we played positive, attacking football and despite the attendance only being 26,000, the atmosphere was electric.
We had progressed to the 5th round stage of the competition thanks to a 2-0 win over Peterborough and a 2-1 extra time victory over Middlesbrough in the previous rounds.
Despite Sunderland largely having the better of the game, the visitors started the match well - Mikel Arteta curled a free kick just wide and Simon Mignolet was forced into a smart save from Gervinho. But as the half wore on we grew into the game and took the lead on 40 minutes from a Kieran Richardson strike.
Craig Gardner had closed down Djourou well and won a free kick in a threatening position, Larsson’s initial free kick was half cleared before Richardson smashed home the loose ball. The shot appeared to take a slight deflection on its way into the back of the net but few inside the Stadium of Light cared.
The home side were nearly two up at the break when James McClean hit the side netting. Larsson whipped in a good ball to the back post which Colback pulled back for the Northern Irishman who was unlucky not to double the lead.
The second half continued in a similar vein with Larsson again involved, curling a free kick just over the bar.
Shortly after Sunderland had a penalty appeal turned down when Craig Gardner’s attempted cross struck the arm of Thomas Vermaelen, but Howard Webb deemed this to be accidental.
The Wearsiders were not to be denied for much longer as they made it 2-0 with a swift counter attacking goal. James McLean robbed Oxlaide-Chamberlain of the ball before Colback squeezed the ball to Stephane Sessegnon, who shrugged off Arteta and fed Seb Larsson inside the penalty area, his shot came back of the post but deflected off the unfortunate Chamberlain and over the line.
Things may be at rock bottom now but that game showed what can happen when the crowd and the players on the pitch are united. Hopefully tomorrow the lads can give the fans something to shout about and kick start our season.