Arsenal lined up exactly as I expected. Pretty much our strongest 11 were sent out to dispatch with Sunderland. Kieran Gibbs wasn’t deemed sharp enough to start which was probably a very good move. Our midfield saw Rosicky start over Ramsey and the forward 3 of Theo, Chamberlain and Robin were given another go.
The tempo of the game was high octane from the start. It looked like Sunderland were trying to land the first goal early on probably with the aim of sitting back after that. They’ve some very handy players and they didn’t make it easy for us. Their first effort on goal came from a wind swept corner of all places, Chesney had to readjust his footing to stop it from edging in.
We were having real trouble going forward. We couldn’t seem to penetrate their box with anything. From out wide, our crosses were pinging off the legs of players and the same was happening when we were taking long range efforts. The best effort on goal probably fell to Theo when he was fed in by Robin Van Persie… his shot was subsequently pulled wide of goal.
The game was relatively open in midfield. No one really took hold of the possession counter, when they did, they certainly didn’t produce much. Theo did bring a bit of humour to the occasion when he tried to replicate Robin’s Everton volley from a Song pass… the result was a shot a that nearly flew the stand.
The second half started out with more purpose. We were smashing balls into peoples legs with far more regularity. Theo Walcott and his final ball really were disappointing. Alex Chamberlain on the opposing wing was having an off day. Hardly anything was being sent his way… and watching Song take the lead as our creator was beyond embarrassing. He was losing possession and over hitting passes in a way only a defensive midfielder given that duty could.
We were let off the hook twice in the second half with two excellent saves from our keeper. One was a speculative shot from a corner that found its way through a crowd of players, the keeper got down well. The second came from Gardener again in similar circumstances but with a more ferocious shot. The keeper got down well, managed the bounce and got down for the second attempt.
The first goal tipped Sunderland’s way. Alex Song who was having a torrid game in the middle and lost possession, the ball made its way up our end, Sagna sped in and passed to Mertesacker, the German was running back and grounded his leg on the terrible pitch, he fell, McClean nipped in unchallenged, raced into our box and finished clinically. It was a freak of a goal and it felt very unsporting… but what are you going to do? Fairplay points don’t keep people in jobs…
Mertesacker looked in all sorts of bother. He was stretchered off, Ramsey was brought on and we prayed to the good lord we could turn something around within 20 minutes.
Well, someone was listening. Within minutes we’d levelled up. Arteta smashed the ball into the legs of a Sunderland defender in an attempt on goal, the ball fell to Ramsey, he struck it first time, the ball made it past everyone’s legs, but just to be a tease, it hit the inside of the post, danced along the line, hit the other post and dropped in! What a superb goal and oh so timely.
The boss brought on Thierry Henry to chase the game. His last Premiership game. Alex Song treated him to an over hit pass almost immediately, even the new calmer Thierry couldn’t hide his annoyance. Things were ticking over in midfield though, we were hunting out our strikers in the box, Robin went closest latching onto an Arteta ball into the box. His powerful header was too close to the keeper.
Wenger made his last roll of the dice an interesting one. He took Theo off for Andrey. The move didn’t bother me this week. Andrey is a quality player. He had to be able to deliver something this year and anyone was better than Theo. Well, Andrey had the ball outwide, he jinked in and made his way towards the box, he looped a cross around the full backs, over two defenders in the box and right onto the boot of Thierry Henry… the Frenchman slotted home and veered off to celebrate with the away fans!
What a way to finish your Premiership career… a 93rd minute goal to win the points on a wet and windy day in the North East! Totally deserved when you consider the way they scored their goal. Absolutely the right way for a legend to sign off for the season.
The way we won out may feel absolutely amazing but it still masks many issues we have with the team going forward. Some of those problems might get answerred with the return of Gervinho, but if I’m honest, I doubt that is going to help too much.
Quality of final ball…
The first major problem that we don’t really have any specialists in the team who can create openings. Aaron Ramsey tries his best when he starts, Arteta is a great passer, but he lacks adventure and his role doesn’t really seem to fit with playing lead creative. Arsene Wenger talked up Alex Song as a great technician when it comes to passing, but he’s kidding no one. The man is not a creator. Bigging him up to be something he’s not leads to games like yesterday. His sloppy play going forward put us under massive pressure on numourous occassions and his passing lead to their first goal and Mertesacker going off injured.
Rosicky should really be taking a lead from midfield, but again, he doesn’t have that little bit of extra quality you need to carve out a role feeding in the wide players and Robin. Without Jack, or a Cesc, we really seem to lack sparkle in midfield. What compounds those issues is the poor final ball of the widemen. Now, I can forgive Chamberlain for having an off day. He’s a rookie. We’ll see plenty more of them before he’s 22. However, I can’t forgive Theo. He’s played over 200 games for his club now and he’s still aimlessly smashing balls into the box in the hope they’ll find someone. He should be putting far more though into what he’s doing and he shouldn’t look so pleased with himself when he wins a throw in because his cross rebounds off the back of someone’s legs.
His pace against Sunderland should be winning us chances in front of goal. Problem is, whenever Theo is played against someone who can match him for speed or intelligence, he really struggles to make an impact,
Quality of second striker…
Now, however you look at the Theirry signing, it has to be deemed a success. He’s won us 2 games out of the 4 he’s played in and he’s scored three. That said, it’s not much of a success if you’ve got to send him packing. Without him to call on, we’re really going to struggle when we’re chasing games because there is no one at the club outside Robin with his class on and off the ball. We’ve dropped an absolute clanger. Chamakh is highly unlikely to come back inspired and it’s clear that the manager and his scouting network made a huge error of judgement if they bought Park in for anything other than far east membership sales.
Still, we are where we are now. I’m guessing Wenger’s constant spin of the truth this week when it comes to money tells us he knows he’s cocked up and that the only way to save face is to muddy the water with financial inaccuracies.
Fighting until the end…
We have to give the team huge credit for not giving up yesterday. We might have been struggling with quality but I’d rather that than the issue of last year which was having the quality but lacking the bottle to push on. We have the core of a good team, it’s just a shame the manager tries to make things as hard as humanly possible in his bid to stay competitive. I’ve also got to give Andrey and Ramsey a lot of credit. Both have been under fire recently, both made fantastic contributions. Robin didn’t have a say in any of the goals yesterday… that’s progress kids!
The other massive positives from yesterday are that Manchester United took 3 points off Liverpool at Old Trafford. Everyone is talking about racism again which will hopefully derail Kenny’s top four push a little further. Spurs also lent a helping hand by tearing Newcastle a new one. Adebayor managed to bag 4 assists and a goal last time I checked. Geoff called for him to be re-signed in the summer… it’s a shame really. I’ve always said a motivated Adebayor is a potent weapon.
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The great news is that we’re back in the top four again with a shared goal difference of +13 with Chelsea. We need to make sure we stay there… it’s a tough few weeks coming up.