Liam Bridcutt says Sunderland’s paltry offering at Arsenal was not due to the Black Cats letting their focus slip towards Wembley.
Everything about Gus Poyet’s men at the Emirates was below the levels they have set for themselves since the turn of the year and it felt like the Capital One Cup final was looming large on the minds of everyone connected with the club.
The supporters sang their Wembley songs which was understandable but there was no excuse for the players to serve up such a disappointing display given the perilous nature of their Premier League status.
There were suggestions afterwards Sunderland’s players were holding back given the importance of next weekend’s game – either consciously or sub-consciously.
However, Bridcutt argues the Cups remain just a pleasant distraction from the serious business of preserving their top-flight status.
The former Brighton midfielder said: “We weren’t holding back. It was never that because every game is a massive game for us that we go into wanting to win. That just wasn’t the case.
“It’s not a danger we lose focus. The mentality of the manager and the players is not that.
“Our mentality is to prepare properly for every game. Staying up is 100% the goal for us.”
Although he was certain Sunderland’s approach was right, he could offer fewer explanations for the nature of their display.
He said: “We always knew it was going to be hard coming to Arsenal and coming up against these players and one of the best teams in the Premier League.
“It was just a bad day for us. We didn’t play the football we wanted to play and we didn’t really get going. It was a disappointing one on our behalf.
“I don’t know where it came from. That’s football I suppose. You have off days. We’ve been on a good run and had a great week of training building up to the game but for some reason it just wasn’t right.”
To be fair, the Gunners were exquisite at times. Their third goal, courtesy of one-touch football that would have graced any stage, was a joy to behold.
Bridcutt added: “I have played against Arsenal in the Cup before. “We knew the qualities they had and sometimes it was just too much for us.
“It was just one of those days when we never got going and never seemed to put our stamp on it.”
Thanks to a brief cameo for the Seagulls, Bridcutt will play the part of bystander this week as the rest of the squad are consumed by Wembley.
He said: “I’m disappointed I can’t play in the final but this is a good week for me to build up for the next game. I only played ten minutes and I was told I wasn’t even going to play in that game so it’s disappointing.”