A manager fighting for his future is often guilty of trying to hide from the truth, but the Scot’s assertion that Sunderland are making progress stretched credibility to breaking point.
Wenger feels the next month will reveal the true strength of Arsenal’s title credentials, but the future appears rather more set in stone for Moyes’ abject side, whose downward mobility next spring already looks sealed.
In contrast, could this at last be the season when Wenger’s perennial chokers finally last the pace to once again lift the ultimate prize in English football? It is unwise to read too much into this autumn stroll, but as the Gunners continue to keep pace with Manchester City and Liverpool at the sharp end of the table, there is a growing feeling that the 13-year hiatus could be about to end.
Arsenal’s lofty ambitions are in stark contrast to those of their vanquished opponents. After posting the worst start 10 games into a Premier League campaign, the recurring question seemed to be where do Sunderland go from here? Burton, Blackburn and Fulham next season, is the cruel answer.
After four consecutive great escapes, even at this early stage, with just two points on the board, the likelihood of a fifth already looks beyond them, barring top-six form for the remaining 28 matches.
Jermain Defoe’s recent withering admission that the club has gone backwards under the former Manchester United manager continues to look the more accurate description of their predicament, but Moyes said: “The players know they are doing better, we are trying to find a way of doing better, and they are giving their best.”
Implausibly, Defoe’s penalty briefly drew Sunderland level, until Arsenal underlined their superiority with three goals in the space of seven second-half minutes. The rival managers kept it brief when discussing Wearside woes afterwards. “He said to me ‘it’s a difficult job’,” revealed Moyes, who is still in search of his first Premier League win more than three months into the job. “I said ‘yeah’.”
Asked if he had sympathy for the Scot, Wenger went even further. “Of course,” he said, in backing his counterpart to somehow turn things round. “I feel pity for him.” Reflecting on an eighth win in nine and 14 games unbeaten, Wenger added: “We have some hard games coming up in a difficult month so by the end of the November we’ll know more about ourselves.”
Arsenal host Tottenham and travel to Manchester United in a testing six-game schedule before the start of December.
They saw out October by barely breaking sweat in an embarrassing mismatch. Olivier Giroud came off the bench to score twice in five minutes with his first two touches, the Frenchman’s crisp volley and looping header sandwiched in between two opportunist efforts from Alexis Sanchez.
Add in the return to fitness of Aaron Ramsey, how little the injured Theo Walcott was missed, and Arsenal’s title challenge is coming together nicely.
“We have a great togetherness and we have quality as well,” Wenger added. “They are good ingredients, but we have to show that we can do it week in, week out.”
Sunderland’s consistency of an altogether different variety sees them already being made odds-on by bookmakers to fall short of Derby County’s Premier League record low points tally of 11 eight years ago when their relegation was sealed in March.
“The bookies can do what they want, but I agree that’s damning,” admitted Moyes. “Setting unwanted records does make you feel lousy, and Saturday is always the worst night if you lose, but you’ve got to take it. Where will I spend it? Probably in a darkened room.”
Pickford 4; Jones 4, Kone 3, O’Shea 4 (Djilbodoji 42, 3) van Aanholt 4; Ndong 3, Rodwell 3; Khazri 2, Pienaar 4 (Januzaj 70, 3), Watmore 6 (Gooch 84, 5). Defoe 5.
Mika, Manquillo, Love, Anichebe.
Cech 6; Bellerin 6, Mustafi 7, Koscielny 6, Gibbs 8; Elneny 7, Coquelin 7 (Maitland-Niles 89); Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Ramsey 77, 6), Ozil 6, Iwobi 6 (Giroud 69, 8); Sanchez 8.
Ospina, Gabriel, Holding, Jenkinson.