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A Neutral's View... And It's Gruesome

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Sheffield Wednesday fan and blogger Martin Wood was at our game against Arsenal at the weekend, and his interesting take on what he saw from Sunderland gives cause for concern.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

On Saturday I watched Sunderland (and Arsenal) for the first time this season. I was at the game as a neutral, albeit one with a real soft spot for Sunderland having spent a fair bit of time both in the area and watching the team around a decade ago.

What I should declare though is that I'm not a neutral on the subject of David Moyes. Before his Black Cats appointment I already had a dim view of him. I thought his Manchester United struggles had finally unmasked an inflexible, conservative coach and his struggles in Spain showed someone unwilling to think there was any way other than his way.

And so to the game.

The early exchanges left me concerned for Sunderland on several levels. First amongst them was the complete inability to string a sequence of passes together, which was evident even in an opening ten minutes that lacked tempo and quality from both sides. But, put on top of this the Manager's obvious blueprint for the day - of trying to get the ball down the right and get a cross in - and Sunderland looked not just one dimensional, but also uninspired. Then there was Duncan Watmore.

I'd been looking forward to seeing Watmore play, but on Saturday he was hung out to dry: a young forward put in a wide midfield role up against one of the best attacking full backs in the country. Fans around me were getting frustrated by the acres of space Bellerin was being given down Arsenal's right, but honestly, I think to blame Watmore would be quite unfair. More widely, I admired his energy and attitude, both evident when winning that penalty, but, that's going to be nowhere near enough this season.

I can't single out Watmore without focusing on a couple of other players that I was genuinely interested in watching.

Rodwell? I was horrified. What's happened to him? He looked like someone who'd won a raffle to wear the shirt for 90 minutes. The total lack of energy and passing range was frightening and watching the industriousness and cleverness of Elneny on the same pitch only showed him in a worse light. Elneny cost about £12m.

For Kone, I was expecting a mountainous presence that would bring some quality and authority to the backline. To actually see the manner he was beaten to the ball for the opening goal and then repeatedly easily fooled by Arsenal's movement made me think there was a mistake on the team sheet and Djilibodji had actually started the match.

While Kone and Rodwell looked ineffective it seemed like Arsenal had read the manual on how to beat Sunderland, and it's a manual that surely all other managers should borrow from their local library.

I accept the superior quality of the Arsenal side in all positions, so I know I'm not talking about a match that was even to begin with, but the game seemed to boil down this: dropping a forward (the excellent but very whiney Sanchez) deep to take the attention of the defensive midfielders, then using runs from even deeper to get at the shaky backline. The fact that Arsenal were presented with acres of space in the flanks must have been an additional and welcome bonus.

Add to this that lack of energy and pressing of the ball, and at times, especially in the first half, it was like watching an Arsenal training match.

That Sunderland were briefly in the game at 1-1 was quite amazing to me. I'm sad to say that I'm glad the score ended up the way it did; it gives the club and the manager nowhere to hide. Indeed it was that equalising goal that seemed to wake Arsenal up, even though they should have been out of sight by half time if Ozil hadn't displayed the kind of lazy finishing he's often criticised for.

From all of this, here's my conclusions. And I'm aware that as true Sunderland fans this isn't going to be telling you anything you don't already know.

In modern football, time is a credit you earn. Even then this credit can be quickly spent. But David Moyes has done nothing to earn time, even if he thinks he should get it.

He may have wonderful long term plans for the club but ultimately he's the coach and producing such listless, pedestrian football is not the way to earn time. Furthermore, stability is not about sticking with a manager when things get tough. Stability is bred from results, and you use those results as a platform for your broader plans.

Watching Moyes' post game interview on Match of the Day this morning, he looked like a haunted owl. He also looked like someone who didn't believe a single word he was saying.

I mainly watch Championship football and the team I saw on Saturday would be nervously looking over its shoulder in that division. As a Sheffield Wednesday fan I know what it is to watch a club that's in a death spiral. All that I saw was a damning indictment of David Moyes' ability to positively influence the club. I saw a team that looked doomed.

There may indeed be nothing that prevents relegation but changing the manager is something that has to happen, because to stick with him is to accept your fate (in October, jeez) and would be an act of extreme cowardice from the club.