Sunderland: Fulop, Bardsley, McCartney, Cana, Mensah, Da Silva, Malbranque, Henderson, Bent, Richardson, Reid. Subs: Carson, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Zenden, Campbell, Murphy, Healy.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Traore, Fabregas, Vermaelen, Gallas, Rosicky, Nasri, Eduardo, Ramsey, Song. Subs: Mannone, Eboue, Silvestre, Denilson, Walcott, Arshavin, Vela.
On this day eleven years ago, Steve Bruce’s Sunderland side managed an important win and clean sheet against difficult opposition, running out 1-0 winners over Arsenal.
Darren Bent’s 71st goal settled the occasion, knocking the title contenders down a peg whilst stabilising Sunderland’s position inside the top ten of the Premier League.
Arsenal, as you’d expect, tried to dominate the ball, but they failed to make it count and, without Robin Van Persie up top, they barely tested Marton Fulop in the home goal. Sunderland - with the in-form Bent leading the line up top - took their only big opportunity of the game to score, an instinctive finish from the man signed in the summer from Tottenham Hotspur after an Andy Reid corner bobbled around the box.
The crowd of almost 45,000 supporters helped to will the team on to victory, with an inspired performance from Sunderland captain Lorik Cana and a cracking defensive display from Paraguayan centre half Paolo Da Silva perhaps the biggest takeaways from the game.
Despite the loss of Kenwyne Jones through suspension, the lads were up for the occasion and gave Arsene Wenger’s title hopefuls as good as they got.
Arsenal’s forward line was unusually blunt, with Sunderland goalie Fulop making just one save in the entire match - an easy one from a Tomas Rosicky strike.
Cana’s display caught the attention of all in attendance, with the Guardian’s Louise Taylor writing after the game that England’s elite clubs were likely kicking themselves for not getting to the Albania international before Sunderland did when he left Marseille that summer.
Jordan Henderson also impressed, out-working and out-thinking Cesc Fabregas in the centre of the park in what was probably one of the biggest challenges of his young career.
Despite the patronising comments post-match from Wenger about Sunderland’s style of play - where he eluded that Sunderland weren’t on the same level as his side, that we had played defensive football, and barely created a thing - a number of opportunities fell to Steed Malbranque in the first half, as did a cracking chance for Kieran Richardson, who almost scored after a great ball from Bolo Zenden.
After the match, Steve Bruce spoke of the importance of remaining focused:
The first thing I said to them when they came off the pitch was if we do not perform at Wigan I will kick all their a**** and they can walk home. We have had to change the team’s mentality. It has been too long up and down and that is difficult to change.
It will take time, three, four, six months, maybe a couple of years, but I am delighted when I see the crowd today: 45,000, fantastic.
Knowing exactly what dribble would be leaving Arsene Wenger’s mouth in his post-match debrief, Bruce was keen to talk up his team after what was a superb win:
In my experience when you beat Arsenal the story is always about how badly they’ve played but I think our lads deserve some credit.
Apart from Marton’s early save I can’t really remember Arsenal having a chance. To beat Arsène’s team you have to play well. This was not a lucky win.
All in all, a very good win and performance - one that lives long in the memory.
Where have the last eleven years gone, anyway?