Number nine. That’s the number of consecutive victories in away matches for Arsenal. And, this was probably the most controversial. Or at least that’s what they told you.
Performance-wise, it was a very solid display for the large part of the match. We deserved to score more than just one goal in the first half but Theo Walcott hasn’t been able to find his shooting boots yet. Özil made his first start for Arsenal and made an immediate impact – he created three clear-cut chances for his team-mates in the first half and only one of those was converted. His link-up with Wilshere, Ramsey and Giroud was like the German had been at Arsenal for years. Wilshere’s performance was much better than his previous outings this season and his connection with Özil was mouth-watering.
Giroud was brilliant again. He scored the first goal of the game and kept sending useful balls behind Sunderland’s defence (the one for Walcott in the first half was Bergkamp-esque in itself). He picked himself an assist but, unfortunately, there were worries that he could be out for sometime with a knee injury, however he has declared his knee is fine.
The Frenchman’s movement has been much better than it was last year, his first touch – whether we are talking about his shooting or passing is irrelevant – looks more secure and connection with his team-mates from the midfield and either wing has been more fluent, probably thanks to the fact that he went through a pre-season with his team-mates. Hopefully Giroud will remain fit for sometime, and not just because we would otherwise run out of strikers but also because he is in top form. Yesterday, he became only the eighth player in Premiership history that has managed to score in all four opening games and with a creative department like the one Arsenal have, Giroud might score at least 30 goals this season in all competitions.
Speaking of the creative department, Ramsey is enjoying the best form of his life. There was something in the way he scored the magnificent volley to restore our lead. It showed how much self-confidence Aaron has and that he knows/thinks that whatever he sends the ball it will end behind the goalkeeper. He has scored five goals this season and it’s only 14th September.
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Flamini might become the most important signing of the summer. He gives that much-needed bite to our midfield. It’s no wonder that Fabregas had his best season in an Arsenal shirt when Flamini was watching his back.
Now, it wasn’t all “milk & honey” yesterday.
First of all, Walcott’s finishing is the least of our problems. He has had a solid number of one-on-one-situations this season but none of those have been converted. It’s not like Theo’s form is poor – he has been very dangerous for opponents so far who cannot deny him a chance to score – but he must improve his finishing. He could have easily killed off the game in the first half and for someone who wants to be a central forward he should have done better with his header in the second half as well. Still, Theo – especially with a clever playmaker like Özil behind him – will find his path to goals. It’s just I want him (just like every other Gooner in the world) to do so as soon as possible.
Second of all, our game suffered a huge drop at the start of the second half. It’s not likely that better teams than Sunderland would have let us go with our defensive howlers. It might had something with the fact Özil had enough fuel for just one half-time due to sickness. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing that our decline at the start of the second half didn’t take victory out of our hands.
Third of all, if anything, yesterday we saw how much Mertesacker means to our defense. Both Sagna and Koscielny have been excellent when one of them has played with Per in pair (yes, it’s a lame pun) but without Mertesacker our defence hasn’t worked properly. We missed Mertesacker’s commanding presence, especially after set-pieces, and it’s debatable whether the German’s absence caused Szczesny’s poor, hesitant performance.
Speaking of which, Szczesny didn’t maintain his string of excellent performances and wasn’t the safest pair of hands on the pitch.
When it comes to Atkinson’s refereeing yesterday, I must admit I didn’t see anything controversial in his decision to call a foul, rule out Altidore’s goal that was scored after the whistle and give a yellow card to Sagna. I heard the whistle during Altidore’s and Sagna’s battle during which they pulled each other’s shirt and I knew that Altidore’s goal wouldn’t stand. So, the real question is: did Sagna deserve a red card or only a yellow that he got? I must admit that I have never seen a red card for that kind of foul Sagna. It was an obstruction, yes, but hardly send-off material. Furthermore, I know at least one Italian referee that would give Altidore a yellow card for continuing the attack after the whistle.
Still, our defending gave us all a nervy afternoon and that should be a nice warning for forthcoming matches. Defending set-pieces is a crucial thing when you play Stoke and they are our next opponents in Premiership. Our squad is thin due to injuries and there might be some Champions’ League-hangover after the trip to France.
Let’s conclude this article with the best part: we are top of the league, we are top of the league!