Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 3

Prior to the match, the focus was on the club-record signing and we didn't get disappointed.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side who started  their 1-0 win in the north London derby before the international break. Sagna came in as a centre back for Per Mertesacker, who missed the game through illness. The deadline day signing, Mesut Ozil, also suffered the virus picked up in the German national team and was pulled off the training on Friday. However, coupled with Rosicky's hamstring injury sustained during his international duty, Cazorla's ankle problem left the manager with no choice but to start Ozil. In the post-match press conference, Wenger confessed that the German playmaker would have been on the bench should Cazorla have been fit. Mathieu Flamini, who came off the bench against Tottenham, was also in the starting XI. To our relief, Walcott and Wilshere, who were taken off during England's 0-0 draw with Ukraine, were both fit to start. Wilshere started on the left wing, with Ozil in an advanced midfield role. Recovering from a stress fracture in the back, Vermaelen returned to the squad for the first time this season, but he was only fit to start on the bench.

It didn't take very long for the deadline-day signing to show what he is renowned for. In the 11th minute, the German playmaker took Gibbs' long ball in the air with an exquisite first touch to control it and delivered a perfect cross for Giroud to finish. Arsenal were 1-0 up. After Arsenal settled in the game, they were totally in control, enjoying 73% possession in the first half. They were at their fluid best and Ozil was at the heart of it. We witnessed with glee that everything said about him, silky skills, deft movements and quick decisions, were all true.

Another talking point of this match was the referee's controversial decision. In our opinion, the referee did not make a mistake by disallowing Altidore's goal, but was probably at fault for not playing advantage on Sagna's foul. Sagna clearly stopped playing when the whistle had been blown (maybe he thought the foul was given in his favour as Altidore was also grabbing the French centre-back in a tussle). However, Altidore continued to play and his shot trickled over the line. The referee was right to pull play back as he had already blown the whistle, but he should have played advantage in the first place if he adjudged Sagna committed a foul. That said, these things, i.e., the ref not playing advantage when they should, have been seen before more than once.

It was another tough and tense game at the Stadium of Light after last season's narrow 1-0 win. This time it was due to Arsenal's profligacy that allowed Sunderland to get back in the game in the second half. And the main culprit was Theo Walcott once again. If he had converted all the chances he had in the first half, it would have been a comfortable win for the visitors. His finishing must improve. On the arrival of the King of Assists, we thought the Englishman would be the largest beneficiary given his pace. Ozil supplied enough chances for Theo to score a hat-trick, but Theo's finishing let him down.

In the end, it was a great result which saw Arsenal climb to a dizzy height of the top of the table. Everton's defeat of Chelsea later on the day meant that we will stay there  at least until Monday night. There are a number of positives from this game: Great debut for Ozil, Ramsey and Giroud continued their red-hot form. On the other hand, Arsenal's defence left a few questions. Koscielny's rash challenges are always likely to give penalties. We were looking forward to see Cazorla and Ozil on the pitch at the same time, but the Spanish midfielder's ankle injury means we have to wait for some while. The injury is likely to keep Cazorla sidelined for a few weeks. Wenger thinks the Spaniard is unlikely to return before the next international break. It is a huge blow to us. On the positive note, Giroud seemed to be OK after he limped off the pitch in the 90th minute. We really need him to stay healthy as he is our only fit first-team striker at the moment. Playing Theo Walcott in the centre forward position he craves to do is an option, which does not seem very attractive given his dismal goal-scoring form.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
With Sunderland registering only 3 shots on target, there wasn't too much to do, but made a good save when called upon. A couple of wrong decisions although they didn't cost us fortunately. 
Jenkinson: 7

Spotted Ramsey and set up the Welshman's sublime first goal with a pin-point low cross.

Sagna: 7

Captain on the day displayed a solid performance as a centre-back.

Koscielny: 6

Conceded a penalty. Has to be more careful especially in the box. 

Gibbs: 7

Good going forward.

Flamini: 6
His positioning was questionable at times, leaving too much room in front of the back four. Made a crucial tackle, but gave away a few needless fouls and was shown a yellow card.

Ramsey: 9

Our Man of the Match. Scored two important and superb goals. Won an impressive 7 tackles. In the second half, when everybody else dropped physically, he started an attacking move involving Ozil and Giroud and finished it off with a fine first touch and a clinical finish. Later on, he had some engine left to beat two defenders and nearly set up a goal for Giroud with a cross from the right flank.

Ozil: 8

If this was his performance when half fit, we save our 10 rating for a day when he is 100% fit and has completed 90 minutes.

Wilshere: 7

With Ozil occupying a No. 10 position, Jack started on the left wing, but roamed across the final third. Combined well with Ozil to pose a threat to Sunderland defenders and looked to enjoy playing football alongside with him. He can learn a lot from the German midfielder, for instance, how to avoid fouls and nasty challenges from the opponents and to make quick decisions on the ball.

Walcott: 5
Again this season his finishing left a lot to be desired.

Giroud: 8
Scored a fourth league goal in the fourth consecutive league game. Apparently, he was the only eighth player in the Premier League history to score in the opening four games of a season. Set up a goal for Ramsey with a perfectly measured flick. Aaron Ramsey explained his form as "I am confident at the moment. Things come naturally to me". Probably the same goes to the French striker.


Vermaelen: 6
80th-minute substitute for Ozil to be slotted into the left-back position, which pushed Kieran Gibbs into the left wing. Good to see him fit again.

Monreal: 6
Replaced Walcott in the 88th minute to shore up defence.

Akpom: N/A
Came on for injured Giroud in the 90th minute.

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