You could just see it coming couldn't you? Arsenal have been eliminated from the FA Cup by Sunderland, after losing 2-0 to their hosts, at the Stadium of Light.
This was supposed to be a comeback match... a rip-roaring reply to what turned out to be a humiliating and miserable trip to Milan... a rousing testament to the much-vaunted character of a side that for nearly a decade now has had only such lame platitudes to fall back on, as they suffer elimination from competition after competition for the absolute same reasons - reasons that everybody in the footballing world has been screaming at manager Arsene Wenger to address.
Instead, it turned out to be to as abject and pointless a performance as we have come to expect from the Gunners.
The North London side travelled to this game hoping to put the misery of a 4-0 defeat to AC Milan, in the first of two legs of the Champions League Round of 16 encounter. We should add that so enormous a margin means the Italians are almost a100 per cent certainty to go through to the next round (to our memory, the last time any side overcame so large a margin to win was in the 2004 Champions League, when Spaniards Deportivo La Coruna turned a 1-4 deficit around to win 5-4; Arsenal's only consolation will be that Deportivo's opponents on that occasion were AC Milan).
At the Stadium of Light, the host side's canny gaffer Martin O'Neill took a leaf out of Birmingham's book and went with 5 men across the midfield, hoping to harry and frustrate the likes of Arteta, Gervinho, Ramsay and Song before looking to break on the counter. That policy was further reinforced by leaving striker Frazier Campbell on the bench and playing in-form Stephane Sessegnon as a link-man/support striker.
The policy got off to a solid start and worked to a treat all game long. Arsenal displayed a regrettable lack of composure, both on and off the ball (except for a few moments in the first half, when Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain made some good runs). The pressuring tactic served to increasingly short-change the Gunners and it was no surprise (almost seemed destined) when Kieran Richardson clinically latched on to a misplaced clearing header from Thomas Vermaelen to fire Sunderland into the lead, with only minutes to go to half time. Incidentally, Johan Djourou did himself no favours in that goal, with a missed interception.
Arsenal struggled to make any impact even after the break, when one assumes Wenger had a few choice words with them. If anything, actually, their play became worse... more balls given away, more passes misplaced and precious few chances were created.
To their defensive credit though, the Gunners did manage to keep their hosts quiet as well... at least until the 78th minute, when the young Ox (who'd already had a poor game) sealed victory for his hosts with an own goal.
Check out photographs of all the action from the Stadium of Light...