By Richard Clarke
Roy Keane was one of Arsenal’s principle adversaries on the pitch for over a decade. Now he is becoming a worthy rival to Arsène Wenger on the manager’s bench.
On Saturday, the Frenchman takes his side to the Stadium of Light to meet Keane’s Black Cats hoping to complete the process of redemption following that worrying defeat to Hull last weekend. Arsenal may have dispatched Porto 4-0 on Tuesday but, in the opening half-hour, there were signs of lingering fragility.
Of course Keane, the player, was a warrior against weakness, a tenacious clinched-fist captain who showed little mercy. It is tempting, though not completely valid, to pigeon-hole his current side the same way. But certainly they have become creditable top-flight operators during the course of the last 12 months. Arsenal beware.
The Irishman spent heavily at the start of last season having won the Championship title the previous May. But a safe season of consolidation more than justified the expenditure. Over the summer, Chairman Niall Quinn allowed his manager to open the club’s cheque-book once again to bring in the likes of Anton Ferdinand, George McCartney, Djibril Cisse, El-Hadji Diouf, Pascal Chimbonda, Steed Malbranque and Teemu Tainio.
Ahead of the game, Wenger was quick to praise manager and, importantly, chairman for the strides the team has made.
“It is remarkable what Roy Keane has done,” said the Arsenal boss. “But what is most important at his level is to have the support from your chairman.
“I must say Niall has done a great job. Roy Keane has spent a lot of money and he is always behind him. They have a team inside the club and, with Quinny and Keane, it looks to be a good team.”
The ‘team’ may be pulling together but at Sunderland the focus will always return to Keane, especially when coming up against Arsenal. It is difficult to think of a modern player who had been more influential in stopping silverware coming to London N5. A Sunderland victory on Saturday would not do that but it would undermine Wenger’s rebuilding process. The Frenchman expects no sympathy.
“Keane has done well in his first year in management,” he said. “You could see already when he was a player that the ingredients are in there. But after that you judge a career on the long term. A management career is a marathon but he has the qualities to become a great manager.”
Wenger is one of those of course already. However he has had a testing week.
After the Hull defeat the manager talked of radical changes to his side but, in the end, only made one tweak. In his pre-match media work on Friday, Wenger suggested there could be more rotation this weekend. The return of the versatile Alex Song after a hip problem will certainly give him options.
Arsenal are two points off the lead in the Premier League and are top of Champions League Group G, so let’s not overblow the problems. However two defeats after six games is two too many and therefore only after Saturday will we know whether Arsenal’s gas tank is half-empty or half full right now.
“The pain was big but the response was good,” said Wenger. “It was important to show that Saturday was an accident.
“Looking at the League table I do not think [the Hull defeat] has too much of an impact, but it is damaging. You do not want to lose at home against anybody.
“But I believe we have a healthy attitude in the squad and that has been shown against Porto. We want to show we have learned from the defeat against Hull.
“We gave the first half of the response on Tuesday night and we want to give the other half on Saturday at Sunderland.
“When you go there, you want your team to be completely at its best and focused. I believe what happened last week will help us to do that.”Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source