In 1985, Arsenal suffered one of their worst defeats, losing 1-0 in the FA cup 4th round to Fourth Division, York City. Playing as a center-back that day for York City was the current Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia.

Ricky Sbragia was a journeyman footballer, having played the majority of his career in the lower leagues of Scotland and England. He won a Fourth Division championship medal in 1984.

His coaching career, however, is more impressive. He started out as the youth team coach of York City, reaching the FA Youth cup quarter-finals in 1993. A year later he became the youth team coach at Sunderland, eventually being promoted to reserve team manager. In 2002, he took the reserve team job at Manchester United winning a title in the process. In 2005, he took the first team coaching job at Bolton under Sam Allardyce before rejoining Sunderland as Roy Keane’s number two in 2007.

Born in Scotland with Italian heritage, Sbragia has asked for his Sunderland players to adopt a positive approach to Saturday’s game away to Arsenal.

But being positive in Sbragia’s mind means:

“We (Sunderland) don’t get drawn into playing just football…We can’t go out there and let them continue playing. We’ve got to stop them and have a plan of our own.”

His last line makes no sense because Sbragia has already outlined his plan – to try and take a point by putting all eleven Sunderland players behind the ball. Every Sunderland man playing as a defender. This means defending on the edge of the 18 yard box just like they did at Old Trafford when they lost 1-0 to a last minute Vidic goal.

Sbragia’s plan is to play negative football.

Sunderland have not played for nearly two weeks. Their last game was a 2-0 victory at home against a 10 man Stoke City. That game was dull with Sunderland scoring twice in the last 15 minutes.

Sunderland’s record under Sbragia is: won 5, lost 4 and drawn 4. However, Sunderland have only won one away game under Sbragia. That was a 4-1 drubbing of Hull City just before Christmas.

Sunderland will not repeat that scoreline on Saturday.

But Sbragia will be hoping to do his friends – Fergie and Fat Sam – a favor on Saturday.

Frustrate Arsenal by putting everyone in front of the Sunderland goal. Go for Arsenal’s weaknesses – perceived as set pieces and high balls into their penalty box. Play physically, imposing players like Kenwyne Jones and Anton Ferdinand. Don’t give Arsenal time on the ball. Play the game in their half.

This does not sound like the beautiful game. It’s anti-football, yet Sbragia is seen as one of the best football coaches in Britain.

That last minute cup defeat to York in January, 1985 was Sbragia’s only victory against Arsenal. It was a low point in my career as a Gooner. I was depressed for a long time. Smashing Sunderland on Saturday would be a good way of afflicting some pay-back on Sbragia – a man who is an adherent of Sam Allardyce’s style of tactics and sports science – otherwise known as anti-football


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