Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Cup Was Never Gunner Be the Priority for Sam's Cats; Arsenal ......................................3 Sunderland ...............................1

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Cup Was Never Gunner Be the Priority for Sam's Cats; Arsenal ......................................3 Sunderland ...............................1

Article excerpt

Byline: James Hunter at Emirates Stadium

SO that is that, then. The key to the trophy cabinet can be put away for yet another year.

Sunderland's FA Cup run ended before it even got out of the blocks with a third-round exit at the hands of holders Arsenal.

It was a tough draw for the Black Cats, pitting them away from home against the Premier League leaders and a team which has won this competition two years on the trot.

Given Sunderland's perilous situation in the league, there is no doubt the romance of the cup must come a distant second to the realism of the relegation battle.

With that in mind, and with a vital game against fourth-bottom Swansea City coming up in midweek, no one could blame Sam Allardyce for his widely-trailed decision to make changes.

Yet, unlike Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp at Exeter City on Friday night, Big Sam struck the right balance between prioritising the league and respecting the grand old cup competition.

His seven changes saw him hand out only one debut, to England under-21 international goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, with the remainder of those drafted in at the Emirates - the likes of Jeremain Lens, Danny Graham, Ola Toivonen, DeAndre Yedlin and Duncan Watmore - all classed as squad players.

Sunderland largely held their own for 70 minutes, albeit Arsenal dominated possession and created far more in the final third, particularly in the second half.

Lens has been a peripheral figure since Big Sam took over but the Dutchman seized his chance to make an impression and put the Black Cats ahead just after the quarter-hour - even if that lead was shortlived as Joel Campbell took advantage of a lapse in concentration from Patrick van Aanholt to level things up less than 10 minutes later.

Academy product Pickford also shone on the big stage, the 21-year-old making a series of saves which proved talk of his potential as a future number one is no exaggeration of his abilities.

Both sides hit the woodwork - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Arsenal and soon after Steven Fletcher at the other end. …

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