As far as every Arsenal fan is concerned, Sunderland is a team we should be beating comfortably. Over the last few seasons however, they have caused us a number of problems, and history suggested that today’s trip to the Stadium of Light would certainly be no walk in the park.
With a number of injuries and some form of illness currently sweeping through the squad, no one was really sure what our line up was going to look like, or if Özil would make his first appearance for Arsenal. And with the after effects of internationals hanging over us, it was a slight worry that we could struggle to take this game by the scruff of the neck from word go, which is what was needed. These worries soon evaporated however. After just 10 minutes our newest superstar Mesut Özil, who was given his first start, took a long ball down with a sublime first touch before squaring it across the box for Giroud, who placed the ball low into the left corner before Keiran Westwood even knew what was going on. It’s great to see the Frenchman continue his goal scoring form, if he can stay fit for the season he could even be in for the Golden Boot.
Sunderland almost hit right back, a motionless Szczesny watching on as they rattled his crossbar from a dangerous-looking corner, but after that scare we settled in and began to really play our game. Walcott was put through on goal twice with a couple of perfectly weighted balls, but was extremely wasteful and blasted both shots directly at the keeper. He missed a third chance just before half time, after a lovely one-two between Wilshere and Giroud allowed Jack to cross into Theo’s path, who put his headed effort wide.
We went into half-time looking comfortable, but at the same time there was a fear that our lack of clinical finishing could come back to haunt us. These fears were realised in the worst possible way, when straight after the break Adam Johnson was allowed space in our penalty box and went down under a Koscielny challenge, with referee Martin Atkinson pointing to the spot. Replays showed that just like in the Aston Villa game, Koscielny got his foot to the ball, and the Arsenal players were rightly furious that another incorrect penalty decision could possibly cost us points.
Sunderland seemed re-energized after their goal and were causing us all sorts of problems. Just before the hour mark they were again given far too much space in the box, and a low cross saw the ball reach an unmarked Steven Fletcher at the far post who tapped it in. Thankfully he was well offside and the linesman did his job, but you can’t always rely on the officials getting these decisions right and we needed to be better defensively.
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Just a minute later Sunderland had a second goal disallowed for offside, and this one was far less cut and dried. Sunderland whipped in a free kick towards the far post and Ki Sung-Yueng ran across Szczesny from an offside position. The run of the South Korean not only meant that our Polish keeper couldn’t commit to either side of the goal in case the ball took a nick, but his view was also obscured. Ki didn’t touch the ball but did enough to throw Szczesny off and the free kick went straight into the goal. Fortunately the linesman and referee recognised that despite not touching the ball, Ki had interfered with play and the whistle blew for offside. The commentator displayed his lack of knowledge when it comes to the offside rule by claiming the goal should have stood having not touched Ki. I find it amazing that someone involved in football at this level has yet to grasp the basics of the offside rule, but that is football today.
My nerves were in tatters, and our inability to kill off the game in the first half was looking more and more like it could cause us to drop points. Thankfully our resident Welsh Wizard popped up with a spectacular volley from the edge of the area after Jenkinson found him with a fantastic cross. Our lead was restored, but I wasn’t feeling comfortable yet. My nerves were put to the test once again when Jozy Altidore showed his strength and shrugged off Sagna to get his shot away, Szczesny got a hand to the ball as it was struck goalwards but it trickled over the line despite the efforts of Flamini to clear it; it really hadn’t been the Pole’s night. Thankfully, once again the goal was disallowed, this time the referee had already blown for a foul outside the box before Altidore muscled his way inside, and play was pulled back. You had to feel a little bad for Sunderland but I was just thankful we had kept our lead.
The game was all but put to bed a few minutes later when Ramsey combined well with Özil and Giroud for his second and Arsenal’s third. Ramsey passed the ball to Özil and made a great run behind the defence as Özil played the ball in to Giroud, who deftly flicked it through to Ramsey who finished without needing to be asked twice. Being two goals to the good, my stress levels were finally allowed to drop a bit, and the last 15 minutes were fairly comfortable.
Ramsey almost turned provider in the dying minutes, after some excellent work down the wing allowed him to square the ball into Giroud. The ball was slightly behind the Frenchman however, and was possibly struck a bit hard, resulting in Giroud having to stretch awkwardly for it and consequently twisting his knee. This allowed a quick cameo for Chupa Akpom who, while a good prospect, is not ready for regular first team action, so we need to hope that Giroud’s injury is nothing serious and he can continue his fine form in the coming weeks. We also saw a return for club captain Thomas Vermaelen in the last 10 minutes which will give us some much needed depth, and I really hope he is able to find form and fitness soon, for both his sake and the club’s.
Overall the performance wasn’t bad, but it shows that we need to be more clinical in front of goal, as well as highlighting what everyone has been saying for the past few months, that we desperately need cover and depth in the striking department. There were definite signs of our old defensive frailties, which could be put down to our ever rotating back four at the moment, and there were some scary moments throughout the game. On another day it could have finished five nil, the chances were certainly there to be taken. Equally however, we could easily have seen three points slip away from us had certain decisions gone the other way.
on the game…
We had an outstanding first half with plenty of chances but we were only 1-0 up at half-time and you know that the break came at the right moment for Sunderland. They came back with a different proposition in the second half. They came back strong. We dropped physically, they came back to 1-1 but after that we had the mental resources to find two goals again. Overall it was a very eventful game and a very interesting one, with Sunderland having a strong and very committed second half.
on his thoughts on the penalty…
From outside it looked a penalty but I have to see it again. It was a distance from the bench.
on Ozil’s debut…
He was like the team. He had an outstanding first half and dropped physically in the second half. He was sick on Thursday night and I decided only today to play him. He had a stomach bug and didn’t feel well. He dropped a bit physically in the second half but his first half was outstanding.
on if Ozil would have been on the bench had Cazorla been fit…
He would have certainly been, due to the fact that he was sick. I would not have taken a gamble but I had not much choice.
on Altidore’s disallowed goal…
It’s one of these things that are controversial because the referee had blown the whistle before [for a foul]. If there is no goal, people moan because he didn’t give the foul. He could have given a foul for Sagna as well. Both were holding each other off. We were a bit lucky in that situation.
on if Sagna was lucky not to be sent off…
Yes. But was he the last man? No. It’s difficult to decide that. I don’t think he was the last man because Koscielny was covering. We are a bit lucky yes because this kind of situation can go in your favour or can go in favour of Sunderland.
on Ozil creating chances for Walcott…
Look he had a few opportunities in the first half. He was the one that had the most opportunities but he couldn’t finish today.
on Giroud’s form…
I’m extremely happy with Giroud today. Not only because he scored, but his overall link play is improving from game to game. I think he is becoming a very important player for us.
on Ramsey’s improvement…
Definitely, compared to one year ago. What he has achieved is fantastic.
on what Ramsey’s performances are down to…
His intelligence, his desire to improve and [his] listening. He has a very learning attitude and he has a fantastic engine as well.
on if Giroud is injured…
That’s my worry today after the game. We are very thin at the moment. [It is] a knee problem. He is the player at the moment that would be very difficult for us [to replace].
Cazorla has an ankle problem. He will be out for a few weeks as well. I don’t think he will play before the next international break.
Jenkinson Sagna Koscielny Gibbs
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