This was the season. It was the one with unforgettable moments - the Wembley final against Manchester City, the double over Newcastle and of course, the great escape.
This 4-1 defeat at Arsenal, however, was easily one of the more forgettable moments of this 2013-14 season.
After an influx of nobodies were signed and the frantic and frenetic regime of Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet came into the club and steadied the ship somewhat. After beating Newcastle and Manchester City in his first few games, Poyet’s Sunderland were struggling in the league, despite an amazing run in the Capital One Cup.
The cup run made up for some really poor defeats in the league, however by the time that this game came around, things were beginning to look just a little better.
January was a good month. The team picked up wins against Fulham, Stoke and Newcastle, briefly bringing them out of the relegation zone.
In typical Sunderland fashion, much like the team now, the ability to completely self-destruct and eliminate all the positive work done was alive and well. Poyet’s team came into this game on the back of a really poor defeat to Hull City at home, who were in good form after signing Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic.
With a week to go before the Wembley final against Manchester City, one would be excused for thinking this would have been a great test for the team in their preparation - but you’d have feared for Sunderland after this first half performance.
The team were 3-0 down by half time - having barely touching the ball in the first five minutes, Olivier Giroud gave the Gunners an early lead.
Error-stricken Santiago Vergini compounded the Sunderland misery with a very poor back pass to Vito Mannone for Giroud’s second. This was followed by a third from Tomas Rosicky and a fourth from Lorient Koscielny.
The performances of both teams summarised their seasons to date.
Despite being without their main man Mesut Ozil, Arsenal were the free-flowing attacking team that many witnessed during Arsene Wenger’s tenure. Players like Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Giroud were playing some of their best football, whilst Sunderland were lacking confidence and quality when defending and attacking.
Whether it was Arsenal taking their foot off the gas or Gus Poyet reading the riot act to the players, Sunderland certainly improved in the second half. Ki Sung-Yeung had a great shot saved by Wojciech Szczesny before Emanuele Giaccherini (remember him?) scored a wonderful volley to give the away fans something to cheer about.
Having punched away a corner, the keeper must have thought he had cleared the danger but Giaccherini fired a low volley just inside the post. It was typical of the Italian who showed glimpses of sublime quality throughout the season but was probably just a little too inconsistent and possibly unsuited to the English game.
With a week to the final against Manchester City, it left much for manager Gus Poyet to ponder.
The combination of Arsenal playing well and us being poor on the ball made it difficult for us.
We needed to be organised and see the danger but they punished us. Then we made a mistake for the second goal, which we never make, and that made it tough.
Wembley could have been on the players’ minds but this was a very good wake-up call. If we play like this against Manchester City we could be embarrassed.
Embarrassed they could have been, but a stark improvement in performance ensured Sunderland fans were allowed to dream for a little bit the following week as Fabio Borini’s striker left the fans delirious.
Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland
Arsenal (4-3-2-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Flamini 67), Monreal (Jenkinson 45,); Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky (Gnabry 73); Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud.
Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabianski, Sanogo, Bendtner.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Mannone; Bardsley, Vergini, O’Shea, Alonso; Johnson (Larsson 45,), Ki (Scocco 73), Bridcutt, Colback, Borini; Altidore (Giaccherini 45).
Subs: Gardner, Celustka, Cuellar, Ustari.
Referee: Andre Marriner