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Analysis: Why Sunderland need to stop feeling sorry for themselves

Match of the Day

You can see highlights of Sunderland v Arsenal on Match of the Day at 22:20 BST on Saturday on BBC One and the BBC Sport website.

We are exactly a quarter of the way through the Premier League season and some teams at the bottom of the table seem to be turning things around after making a bad start.

Stoke and West Ham, for example, have started to climb away from the relegation zone but the biggest worry for Sunderland fans is that their side do not look remotely capable of doing the same.

I know the Black Cats have got out of trouble before having found themselves in a similar situation but this time, after picking up only two points from their first nine games, things look really desperate for the only top-flight team without a win.

At least one element of their struggles seems to be self-inflicted, with everyone at the club feeling sorry for themselves – and not just because they have lost some players to injury and conceded some costly late goals.

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Sunderland have conceded goals in the 85th minute or later in four of their nine PL games so far this season, costing them a total of five points – more than any other top-flight side in 2016-17. They would be 17th if every team’s results were based on scores after 84 minutes.

There is a negative feeling about the place with the manager David Moyes and his players talking about how they have gone backwards since last season, when they should be searching for any kind of spark that could change things around.

From the outside, looking at the way they play and their lack of creativity, it is hard to see what that spark might be or what could fundamentally change under Moyes until the January transfer window opens.

If they can get one win under their belt then they will get a bit of belief back but, the longer this winless run goes on, the more negativity there will be.

What has changed since last season?

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Is time running out for Moyes at Sunderland?

Sunderland finished last season on a high under Sam Allardyce, with a run of just one defeat in their last 11 games securing their safety.

In the space of five months, all of that confidence and momentum seems to have been sucked out of the club, despite them effectively having the same group of players who, not so long ago, looked inspired.

That is not all down to Moyes, but he has to take some responsibility for it.

I am yet to see a defined style of play from Sunderland since he took charge at the end of July.

That is in contrast to Allardyce’s time as manager, when they were resolute and difficult to beat and, at the end of his stint at the Stadium of Light, also played with a purpose when they went forward.

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Only Burnley and West Brom have had less possession on average than Sunderland in the Premier League this season. Sunderland are ranked last for goals and shots per game – they were 11th and 13th in those categories in 2015-16.

Off the pitch, Moyes has not helped himself much either.

There was no need for him to be so pessimistic when he came out after the second game of the season and announced they would be in a relegation fight, which did not send out the right message to his players or the fans.

When he took charge, he had actually started out by being unrealistically positive – talking about Sunderland becoming a club that regularly finished in the top half of the Premier League – but his expectations went downhill very quickly.

I know you can argue that he has been proved right, because Sunderland are now battling the drop, but it meant there was a cloud over from them almost as soon as the season had started.

Sunderland short in attack and defence

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Defoe is averaging three shots a game in the Premier League this season, more than half of Sunderland’s total. He has scored four of their six Premier League goals so far.

It seems to be a case that if you stop Jermain Defoe, you stop Sunderland. His statistics stand up well in comparison to last season, but the rest of their team are not doing enough in attack.

They were reliant on Defoe last season too, but others did chip in – in their first nine league games of 2015-16, five players found the net. This time around, only Defoe and Patrick van Aanholt have scored in the same period.

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Sunderland have the lowest number of different scorers in the Premier League this season – Middlesbrough, Stoke, Swansea and West Brom are next lowest with four apiece. Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Leicester have had the most, with eight.

It is going to be a massive struggle for them to stay up from the position they are now in anyway, but they badly need a win and quickly. I don’t see it coming at home to Arsenal on Saturday, though.

Do they even look capable of holding out for a draw against the Gunners, the way another struggling team Middlesbrough did at Emirates Stadium last weekend? No.

If you struggle to make chances and score goals, as Sunderland do, that puts more pressure on your defence because you know if you concede then you are in big trouble.

And the Black Cats have problems at the back as well – their only clean sheet in 12 matches under Moyes was against League One side Shrewsbury Town in the EFL Cup.

It does not bode well against an Arsenal side that are averaging more than two goals a game this season.

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It is hard to find any positives from Sunderland’s situation but at least they have not been cut adrift at the bottom – yet.

Unless they win soon, that could happen. I think Hull are also in for a very tough season but when I look at the other two teams immediately above them, Boro and Swansea, they definitely have more about them than the Black Cats do.

Hull game could be crunch time for Moyes

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Changing manager has clearly not helped Sunderland and comparisons with his predecessor do not help Moyes much either.

You cannot tell me that, if Allardyce was still in charge, Sunderland would have only picked up two points so far. It just would not have happened.

Moyes replaced him relatively late in the summer, which is difficult in itself, but he can only complain about the things that have gone against him up to a point. He should be doing much better than he is.

He is still the manager and he is capable of turning things around, so it is right there is no suggestion of him getting the sack.

But that will not last forever. This industry is results-driven and Moyes’ results are not good enough.

That clearly has to change soon and, looking at Sunderland’s next few fixtures, the one that stands out as a must-win is their home game against Hull on 19 November.

If they fail to beat Arsenal and Bournemouth, then the visit of the Tigers will be the game to define Moyes’ tenure. If Sunderland are still without a win after that, things will become extremely difficult for him.

Chris Sutton was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37783264