Monday, February 11, 2013

Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1

It was another hard-fought win, which was a lot tougher than last week's 1-0 win over Stoke as we had a lot of defending to do under severe pressure with a numerical disadvantage. The last 20 minutes brought our hearts into our mouths. It was not comfortable viewing, but in the end, we were all pleased with our team's gritty display. Arsenal have been criticised for their lack of steel in recent years. Losing a key player to injury and a sending off could have had a catastrophic effect on the team's performance in the past. The departure of Jack Wilshere certainly affected our creative side of play, but it didn't lead to capitulation. We defended resolutely after going down to 10 men. We like the way the team earned a vital three points. Facing a situation where we cannot afford to drop any more points, have the team finally found a strength of character? We'd like to think so.

Games following international breaks always give Arsene Wenger team selection headaches and this one was no exception. The biggest problem was a centre-back position. With Thomas Vermaelen ruled out after reportedly having been sent back from the Belgium national squad midweek due to his lingering ankle problem, Koscielny's fitness was a big issue. Wenger was optimistic about the Frenchman's calf strain that forced him to limp off the pitch during France's friendly against Germany on Wednesday night. However, the boss admitted prior to the match that if Koscielny failed a test, options were limited and he had to be "creative". To our relief, the boss didn't mention Squillaci's name as an option. As it turned out, Koscielny reportedly tweaked his calf in the warm-up and as a result, Bacary Sagna was told to play in central defence only 15 minutes before the game, which meant Jenkison was promoted from the bench to the starting line-up at right back. Another option Wenger suggested in the pre-match press conference was on the bench in the shape of Iggy Miquel.

In addition to those changes to the shape of the back four, Wenger made two more changes to the side that started in last week's victory over Stoke. Aaron Ramsey, who was pulled out of the Wales squad before their friendly against Austria due to a calf problem, came in for Abu Diaby, while Santi Cazorla started in the place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The scorer of the winner against Stoke, Lukas Podoski, was on the bench along with Vito Mannone, the Ox, Tomas Rosicky, and Diaby.

A fraction of fans are not happy with the negative tactic we adopted for the last 20 minutes, which was sitting in deep and trying to hit Sunderland on the break. However, we think the Gunners did the right thing under the circumstances with 10 men. In fact, it nearly worked. On several occasions, our break-away players outnumbered Sunderland defenders as the hosts pushed forward, committing more players higher up the pitch. If only Giroud, Cazorla, and Diaby had been more clinical in their finishing, we could have enjoyed the rest of the game relaxed. Walcott also hit the woodwork.

While we heap praise on our team's resolute and committed display in the second half, our regret is wastefulness in the first half. We played some good football and beautiful link-up play, demonstrating quality in the team and showcasing Arsenal's style of play, but the final ball let us down. Walcott and Giroud missed glorious goal-scoring chances, while Ramsey was unlucky not to score on two occasions, both of which were denied by fine saves by Mignolet. We had enough chances to put the game out of sight in the first half and the sending off wouldn't have mattered too much.

That said, positives taken from this game far outweigh negatives. We started the game with high tempo and kept attacking with a high level of intensity for a large part of the first half. Hopefully, we have kicked the recent habit of slow starts which earned us a reputation as a second-half team.

Another clean sheet and solid defensive performance should boost the team' confidence. Since the arrival of Nacho Monreal, we have kept a clean sheet twice in a row. Is this coincidence? The presence of an experienced left back seemed to have contributed to the stability of our defence. Mertesacker was largely helped in the less familiar left side of central defence by not having to cover for the left back and concentrating on his job. In particular, Monreal's calmness is beneficial to our defence which was shaky previously.

Three points proved to be vital with Chelsea and Tottenham winning on the same day. The win moved us up in the table to fifth, leapfrogging Everton, and we are set to stay there for at least another two weeks, following Everton's loss to Manchester United on Sunday. Now we have three important matches in three different competitions in two weeks. We need to focus on each one of them.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 9
Produced a string of outstanding saves, which were crucial to secure the three points.

Jenkinson: 5
Sent off in the 62nd minute after receiving a second yellow card. We think the first one was a bit harsh as it was his first foul and wasn't a malicious challenge, but just mistimed. Nonetheless he should have been more careful after being cautioned. Struggled to cope with Sunderland's wide players. However, we still think he is a promising young talent and this game just highlighted the fact that he needs games. It's a shame now he will miss out on Saturday's FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers through suspension, which could have been an ideal opportunity for him.

Sagna: 9
Prior to the match, we were sceptical about him playing as a centre back mainly because of his height or lack of it, although we knew that he has a tremendous leap. In fact, he put in a blinding performance and fared better than in his regular position at right back, perhaps because he didn't have to run up and down the flank or put crosses in. It was a revelation.

Mertesacker: 7
Generally solid, apart from one failed clearance, which nearly cost us a goal and two points (although Fletcher handled the ball).

Monreal: 8
It was the first stern test for him in the defensive terms as Stoke showed little ambition in going forward last week. We think he passed it with flying colours. Made two key passes with 96%  passing success rate.

Ramsey: 7
Had a good game both defensively and offensively. Actively involved in attack in the first half but following the sending off of Jenkinson, he ended up playing in an unfamiliar right-back position. He was dispossessed by Sessegnon, which could have had significant consequences, but to be fair for him, his play was probably affected by the knock he received on the ankle.

Wilshere: 8
Drove the team forward till he suffered a big kick on the thigh. Excellent in linking with Cazorla, which is encouraging as it looks these two seemed to have developed good understanding. Keep fingers crossed for his speedy recovery. Wenger hopes it will be four or five days until the England midfielder is back. Newspaper reports suggest that Wilshere could be back for Saturday's cup tie, but with the Champions League game on the horizon as early as on Tuesday night, it may be a good idea to start him from the bench. Certainly his fitness shouldn't be gambled on, considering the importance of a player of his calibre against Bayern Munich.

Arteta: 8
Guided the team to the hard-fought victory as captain of the day. Subtle display as usual, but played a central role in distribution of the ball and Arsenal's resolute defence.

Cazorla: 9
Scored the winning goal and orchestrated Arsenal's attack.

Walcott: 7
Had several goal scoring chances, one of which he hit the woodwork. He has hugely improved this season in consistency through a game. He doesn't go missing or fade away in games these days.

Giroud: 7
Worked hard. He played a vital part in defence, using his aerial ability, as well as getting involved in most of the Gunners' attacking play. However, he needs to improve his finishing.


Diaby: 7
50th-minute substitute for injured Wilshere. Added physical strength and height to the Arsenal defence and defended well.

Miquel: 6
Came off the bench in the 87th minute to replace Walcott in order to shore up the defence. Did his job.


Anthony Taylor: 5
His decisions were inconsistent. Jenkinson's first carded challenge was not as bad as some of the Sunderland players' tackles which escaped punishment. Arsenal midfielders, especially Ramsey and Wilshere, and forwards suffered the consequences of the referee's shortcomings physically. One of the poorer referees this season.


  1. Hearts in mouth? Not comfortable viewing? As a Sunderland supporter I get used to this sort of display. Why oh why we didn't play with 2 up front as soon as Wilshire went off was a downer. When Bramble nearly becomes a teams saviour you know they arn't so good. Best we could of hoped for was stealing a 1-0 win, once you scored, I thought it was going to be 2 or 3. Nothing has changed in the 50 years of being a Sunderland supporter and I cannot see it changing in another 50! Not that I will be around still got the memory of '73 to hark back to

  2. It is strange how fans can see what is wrong and the powers that be can't. We played exctly the same against Blackburn and lost, we could just as easily have lost to Sunderland and Stoke. It's infuriating but you just have to keep hoping.