Reaction: Sunderland (A)

Cazorla nets the winner in the first half.

Cazorla nets the winner in the first half.

One nil to the Arsenal and that was a fair result in the end. The Gunners dominated the first half and should have been up by 3 before the half time break. The game quickly turned in the second half with Jenkinson’s sending off but the team manned up and soaked up the pressure to deliver the goods. The three points were won by a mixture of guile and grit as Arsenal stood up to be counted on when the pressure was cranked up.

 

 

4-4-2

I believe this is the first time I’ve seen our team play a fluid 4-4-2 formation and boy was I excited about it. Our midfield quadruple consisted of Wilshere, Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla. Twitter chat suggested we had no winger but Cazorla primarily operated on the left side of the pitch for Malaga and he played that role for us today. In fact our play did swing towards the left very often due to that. Both Ramsey and Cazorla covered the middle and left side of the pitch. Arteta primarily operated central and right while Wilshere stuck to the centre.  Expectedly, Giroud and Theo operated as our forwards. When play did swing rightwards, Theo swapped places with Santi as the little Spaniard took the second striker role and Theo came in from the right.

It worked perfect in the first half. We were dominant, created a feast of chances and retained the ball well in midfield. It wasn’t as if Sunderland was not trying, they pressed hard and did well in patches. They managed to suppress Arteta which is what usually happens if an opponent presses hard on the centre of the pitch.

 

The manner in which we pinged the ball around was a joy to watch

 

But over time, we were always going to find space with 4 interchanging midfielders darting in all directions. At many points of the match, the manner in which we pinged the ball around was a joy to watch. A hopeless cause quickly turned into a chance because that one player pulled back and allowed a swift one two to be played.

After many missed chances, Cazorla made it count after Theo tee-ed him up with a low rasping shot that the otherwise excellent Mignolet could not keep out. One nil. We had more chances after that but poor finishing from Giroud, Ramsey and Walcott meant we went to the break only up by a goal. I really hope to see us play in this manner more often. 4-4-2 did work a treat for us.

 

 

Backs to the Wall

All that sparkle of the first half quickly descended to gloom. Wilshere was taken off for Diaby possibly because he played 90 mins against Brazil and needed rest. There could also be a hint of caution as he left after a heavy tackle. Without Wilshere and with Sunderland adapting to our first half tactics, the home side made inroads into our half. Just at the hour mark, Jenkinson got his second yellow and the team was reduced to 10. The onslaught began.

Ramsey: Our utility man covered as RB and worked hard to preserve the lead.

Ramsey: Our utility man covered as RB and worked hard to preserve the lead.

Wenger converted Ramsey into a RB and refused to bring Miguel on. Maybe he believed we needed a second goal. Wave after wave of attacks came. Sessegnon found it easy beat Monreal in the first half. This time he ate both Jenkinson and later Ramsey for lunch. His pace, trickery and first touch made you wish Gervinho had a bit of that. The Arsenal defense endured cross after cross and a whole series of corners. But the team stood firm.

Sagna performed brilliantly at center back. In fact, I am not be sure if our first choice CBs could have played as well as he did. He was decisive, quick and didn’t put a foot wrong. Headed clearances, nicking 50-50s and reading the play perfectly made the Frenchman the man of the match. Per didn’t fair too badly either but was less effective at winning balls. Our full backs were having a torrid time but they decided to pack the box, rushing out when the ball was cleared  to prevent a follow up shot.

 

Headed clearances, nicking 50-50s and reading the play perfectly made Sagna the man of the match

 

Yet, we had many chances to score as well. Giroud was wasteful on two occasions. The second yielded a very angry Wenger who shook his fists and looked as if he wanted to tear OG12 a new one. Cazorla sent one straight over the bar while Walcott’s toe poke agonizingly hit the post with the ‘keeper beaten. It was end to end stuff, both exciting and gut wrenching.

At points in the match, I could not bear to see another Sunderland cross into our box. But the defense and Szczesny stood firm. Kudos to our ‘keeper that made a series of smart saves and excellent punches to allay the heavy pressure that the defence was facing.

At the 94th minute, we cleared the final corner with WS1 saving the follow up. Sagna roared and so did the Arsenal faithful. One nil to the Arsenal, and three points brilliantly fought for.

 

 

Guile and Grit

The match served a confidence boosting win for the Gunners. We are known to be shaky when the tide turns against us. But this time, the red card didn’t stop the team from doing all it could to win that 3 points. Unlike the matches against City and Chelsea where we literally waved the white flag after a red and a penalty respectively, the team buckled down and got the job done. Yes, there were moments of luck. I am not a fan of luck and fate but the effort and desire shown deserved that luck. In some way I was prouder of the second half performance than the first. These are the types of wins that build commanderie and confidence. Sagna’s reaction at the final whistle summed that up best.

 

This match was a perfect answer to the criticism that the team has rightly faced this season

 

There was silky football to purr at as well. The first half oozed in attacking class. The interplay between Wilshere, Cazorla, Arteta, Ramsey, Theo and Giroud was a joy to watch. Sunderland was being cut through no matter what they tried. Pity our finishing couldn’t match the class of our attacking play. In many ways, this match was a perfect answer to the criticism that the team has rightly faced this season.

Wilshere drove the Arsenal midfield in the first half, flanked by equally impressive team mates.

Wilshere drove the Arsenal midfield in the first half, flanked by equally impressive team mates.

 

 

The Negatives

It would be biased to only look at the positives. None of our full backs could deal with Sessegnon. Maybe I am demanding too much that our players must be able to deal with anything thrown at them. Sessegnon successfully fooled Monreal thrice in the first half before playing a big role in CJ’s sending off . We simply couldn’t deal with his penetrative, darting runs.

 

None of our full backs could deal with Sessegnon

 

Giroud had a game to forget. His first touch is excellent and the manner in which he opens up space for his team mates is a real asset but he just seems to have a Gervinho moment every time he shapes up to shoot.  Giroud also tends to switch from a provider’s mindset to a more greedy one in the second half. Maybe he wants to end the game with a goal and yes, we do need players who are willing to shoot. However, the choice to go for it way outside the box with Cazorla available was damning of his greed. I’m sure Wenger will have a word with him.

 

 

Three Points Well Won

I like to look at the reverse fixtures now that we are firmly in the second half of the season. Sunderland and Stoke were our first two games of the season – both were promising 0-0 draws. This time, we took 6 points including a tremendous win today.

It’s difficult to say if we have turned a corner and have shown character and desire. After all, this is Arsenal and it takes a whole bunch of sadistic fans to support a team that often toys with the roulette wheel.

Nonetheless, a difficult but well deserved three points were won today and, as fans, we can enjoy the rest of the week. COYG!
 

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