Chris Young’s big-match analysis: Signs of life, but Sunderland need points – and fast

Jozy Altidore.
Jozy Altidore.

MESUT OZIL is clearly no proponent of the post-transfer window bedding-in thesis.

Neither the time restrictions of a meagre hour or two on the training ground with his new team-mates, nor a bout of stomach cramps, could prevent the £42.5million deadline-day buy putting an instant stamp on the Premier League.

Such immediate rewards are now a pipe-dream for this dramatically overhauled Sunderland side.

Bottom of the pile after their worst start to a Premier League season since the 15-point 2005-06 campaign, Paolo Di Canio must continue his pleas that Sunderland will come good over the course of time.

But hearteningly, for the first time this season, there was a sense of harmony around Sunderland’s approach play against Arsenal on Saturday.

A point could indeed have been a season-changing moment for the Black Cats and referee Martin Atkinson must take a long, hard look in the mirror at his part in denying Sunderland such a reward.

Everyone makes mistakes, but, for an official genuinely rated by players as one of the best in the Premier League, it was a clanger of an inexplicably elementary level.

But that second half provided some foundations for Di Canio, some evidence that his strategy and managerial philosophy will have reaped rewards by the time the nights draw in.

One of the principle drawbacks of the Martin O’Neill reign was the lack of unity around his side.

There were no partnerships anywhere on the pitch.

Sunderland meandered and bumbled their way forward, and relied upon their outstanding individuals – Steven Fletcher, Simon Mignolet and Danny Rose – to scramble points on the board.

It was something Di Canio needed to address and at last, the revolution showed some signs of harmony:

H A front two capable of interchanging, linking up and bursting down the channels.

H Widemen surging inside and playing off the strikers.

H And full-backs bombing forward to overlap the inverted wingers.

When played with the intensity which accompanied Sunderland’s second-half display, this was very much the grand plan that Di Canio drew up during the summer.

Arsenal struggled to live with it and had Sunderland possessed a modicum of fortune or an absence of inept refereeing, it would have been rewarded.

After the confidence boost of Craig Gardner’s equalising penalty, Sunderland’s players seems to relish the system too, as they found space and moved the ball around at tempo.

Steven Fletcher suddenly looked an arch predator after a first half where he had been statuesque and guilty of uncharacteristically sloppy control.

Skipper-for-the-day Adam Johnson woke up after an ominous first half, while Charis Mavrias showed promise on the other flank, despite his tender years.

And Jozy Altidore injected that intense physical presence into the front-line which Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna could only handle by illegal intervention.

This new-look front four showed they can be a threat, albeit Arsenal presented Sunderland with far more attacking space than a side who will come to Wearside happy to set up shop.

But harmony remains a work in progress further back.

It was only after the pivotal introduction of half-time substitute Gardner that Sunderland enjoyed some bite in the middle of the park.

Debutant Ki Sung-Yeung played some neat passes and clearly has the foresight to pick out a man on a dangerous angle. He will only get better once his match fitness returns too.

But Ki needs someone to help him physically and David Vaughan wasn’t that man.

Arsenal’s midfield was exceptional in the first half, but Sunderland never got close enough to them to ruffle their feathers.

Both of Theo Walcott’s golden opportunities, from Ozil’s pinpoint slide-rule passes, stemmed from Sunderland cheaply surrendering possession in the middle of the park.

Against a mouth-wateringly slick side like Arsenal, that is suicidal.

It’s bad enough waiting two or three minutes to regain the ball while Arsene Wenger’s side keep it for fun, without giving it straight to them for a devastating counter-attack.

Neither did Sunderland’s defending convince.

It would be churlish to begrudge the execution in each of Arsenal’s three goals.

But the gaps in the back-line which presented the Londoners with the chances that they didn’t take, were far more alarming.

The space between the centre-halves and the full-backs was an invitation for disaster and Ozil did not need a fortnight of training sessions to learn that he could pick out Walcott’s electric pace in between Jack Colback and Valentin Roberge.

Had it not been for Keiren Westwood, a defence consisting of three summer signings would have been put out of sight by the interval.

The return of John O’Shea should help in Sunderland’s defensive organisation, yet the Black Cats have still conceded three times in each of their last two games.

They need some continuity among the back-line to create some fortitude though.

In four league games, there have been three different central defensive combinations.

Similarly, in central midfield, there has been a different double act in every game.

Di Canio will hope that now he has players back fit, the conveyor belt of chopping, changing and absentees will slow down.

What he really needs though are points.

It is ridiculously early to be claiming the situation is critical.

After all, Sunderland had a modest nine points from 11 games in each of the last two seasons and still managed to survive.

But Sunderland need to ensure that the harmony from the second half on Saturday is not a one-off.

If they can reproduce that, they will be fine and when looking for signs of recovery, it’s the first time that could be genuinely said this season.

Twitter @youngsunecho