Cats Eye: Martin O’Neill’s tactics cost Sunderland

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SO Sunderland’s unbeaten home run under Martin O’Neill has come to an end.

The Wearsiders 2-1 defeat at the hands of Arsenal was their first loss in seven games at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats turnaround under Martin O’Neill has been nothing short of remarkable.

His tactics, style of play and formations have brought instant success, and have seen the red and whites climb into the top half of the Premier League table.

I’m a great admirer of O’Neill and he deserves every credit for the impact he has had since taking over at Sunderland.

However, I do think he got his tactics slightly wrong on Saturday.

Those sentiments will no doubt be seen as sacrilege among certain sections of the red and white’s support, but nonetheless I feel the Black Cats may have missed a trick against the Gunners.

Had Thierry Henry not rounded off his second coming to the Premier League with an injury-time strike, then I would have been happy to concede that once again O’Neill had judged it right.

But Henry’s 92nd minute goal secured all three points for Arsene Wenger’s side, when it looked like the hosts had done enough to earn a share of the spoils.

The Wearsiders had defended valiantly for large parts of the clash, only to lose out at the death.

That, however, is the risk you run when you sit back and invite a team as good as Arsenal to attack you.

Don’t get me wrong, O’Neill’s counter-attacking tactic has worked on almost every occasion since he took the helm at Sunderland – a very similar style of play brought its rewards as they claimed a 1-0 home win over league leaders Manchester City at the Stadium of Light.

But you have to take the rough with the smooth, and when you play on the break, there’s always a chance you may get caught out.

Sunderland defended far too deep on Saturday – at times they had 11 men in their own half as they looked to stifle the Gunners.

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Fraizer Campbell, who has been in great form in front of goal since his return, was asked to operate wide on the right with Stephane Sessegnon playing as the sole striker.

The reason for Campbell’s deployment on the wing, was, of course, to deal with the threat of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain marauding down Arsenal’s left.

That worked a treat, but it meant that the Black Cats had to sacrifice some of their own attacking impetus.

During the spells that Sunderland did manage to get on the front foot, they did cause Arsenal problems.

But O’Neill’s decision to pack the midfield and for his side to sit back, meant they were few and far between.

Of course, you could argue that had they been much more adventurous going forward Arsenal may have cut them to shreds.

However, when they took the lead – somewhat fortuitously after Per Mertesacker’s slip – they could have took the game to the visitors far more.

An equaliser minutes later meant that the Black Cats were once again forced to defend deep while looking to break.

In the end, that made it more difficult for them to clear their lines, and with time running out, Henry struck.

I’m not expecting O’Neill to change his tactics after one result, particularly when it has brought such positive results in the past.

But maybe there’s an argument for attack sometimes being the best form of the defence.

Perhaps the Wearsiders should keep that in mind when the Gunners return for their FA Cup clash this weekend.