Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arsenal 4 Sunderland 1

This game was the focal point of our annual Benidorm trip in 2014 and we couldn't have chosen a better weekend. The outcome of the game at the weekend always sets the tone for our annual trip, the best example being the famous 5-2 victory over Tottenham in 2012. This fixture turned out to be a perfect game to kick off our two days in sunny Benidorm. It was arguably the most comfortable win this season. Perhaps the Arsenal FC shared the feeling as they had arranged a half-time event to commemorate the unveiling of a Dennis Bergkamp statue. 3-0 up at half time, the Q&A with the Arsenal great was no wonder upbeat.

As expected, Arsene Wenger rang a few changes to the side that started in a 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. Olivier Giroud came in for Yaya Sanogo, which was fully expected after the 27-year-old striker was rested for most of the FA Cup tie and the entire midweek game. Some speculated that the French international was left out for the Bayern game because the private-life issue might have been affecting him mentally, but it was clear in this game that he was benefited from the rest physically. He was fit and sharp. Mesut Özil, who was under fire after the crucial penalty miss on Wednesday night was completely dropped, not even on the bench. In the post-match press conference, Wenger explained the German playmaker's omission from the squad as a forced change due to a thigh problem, but the boss assured that Özil should be available for the Stoke game. Rosicky took the No.10 role with Podolski on the left wing. Arteta replaced Flamini, after serving a European match ban. Monreal started in place of Gibbs who sustained a buttock injury during the Bayern game.

The team selection was spot on. It would be too harsh on Özil to conclude from this game that the Gunners are better off without Ozil. This was just the right kind of game for the right group of players with the right performances on the day. Rosicky had a great game in the No.10 role (Wenger praised him by saying that Dennis Bergkamp would be proud of the Czech's performance in the role the Arsenal legend is renowned for), pulling all the strings. All the players were sharp on this day and started brightly with high tempo, which was rewarded in the form of Giroud's 5th-minute goal. A mistake from a new Sunderland signing led to the second goal in the 32nd minute, followed by Rosicky's clever goal to finish off a well-worked-out build-up play just before half time. In contrast to the Bayern Munich game, everything went well for us in this game, apart from two injuries. 

The game was a demonstration of the Arsenal brand of free-flowing football, which is epitomised by Rosicky's goal. The Czech Republic captain finished the exquisite passing movement involving Wilshere and Giroud with a delightful chip over the keeper. This was a typical Arsenal game at its best, highlighted by stats: 64.8% possession, 691 total passes, 90.3% passing success rate and 12 shots in total of which 9 were on target.

In the last two games, Arsenal displayed more direct attacking play based on quick counter-attack with different personnel up front. The results were mixed, but their performances were equally impressive. This weekend, Arsenal showcased their trademark passing ability and got the result they wanted. It is encouraging that different sets of attacking players play their different games equally well. Hopefully, when Ramsey returns, Özil will rediscover his early form.

This day's strong performance seemed to have convinced many pundits of Arsenal's title credentials, which were severely questioned after the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool. Especially, they acknowledged the Gunners' bouncebackability. They have always come back with an answer to doubters every time they had a blip this season. Now we have gone though the tough run of February fixtures and we are just a point behind league leaders, Chelsea, and two points ahead of Manchester City who have a game in hand. What we have learnt from the difficult run in February is that everybody can drop points against any team and the title race is likely to remain tight.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
As Arsenal dominated in possession, there was not much to do, but when called upon, he made a couple of fine saves.

Sagna: 7
Started at the right-back and moved to the left-back at half-time as a result of an injury to Monreal, ending the game as a centre-back following Koscielny's injury. Did well at each position.

Mertesacker: 7
Rock solid.

Koscielny: 8
Scored with a bullet header. He seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed his goal by the look of his celebration. It was a worry when he was substituted through an injury, but after the match, the boss confirmed that it was a back problem but shouldn't prevent him from featuring in the next game. Although Vermaelen's return is imminent, the French centre-back is the rock of our defence. Besides, the Belgian may be needed as a cover for the left-back, now Gibbs is set to be out for 2-3 weeks.

Monreal: 6
Subbed at half-time due to a foot injury. The boss reckons that he should be available for the next game as it was only a kick in the foot. It is a relief as we only have one fit left-back at the moment.

Arteta: 7
Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions and 120 passes with a 93% passing success rate. His display was not eye-catching because of the nature of his role, but he put in a reassuring performance in front of the back four.

Wilshere: 7
At the heart of creativity. In the post-match interview, he emphasised the importance of winning the ball back high up on the pitch. The stat backs it as he made 2 tackles in this game. Apparently, he had a tight hamstring. Hopefully, it's not too bad.

Cazorla: 7
Part of the impressive midfield.

Rosicky: 9
For me, Man of The Match. Always pushing to go forward and attack the opposition. Superb
goal after a great Arsenal move. Thank goodness he has renewed his contract.

Podolsiki: 7
Unlucky not to score when his fierce shot forced a superb save from Vito Mannone. It was not his best game by any means, but it was great to see him play together with Giroud rather than as his replacement and complete a full 90 minutes. 

Giroud 9
Scored 2 goals and made 1 assist. Had a great game. He took the first goal with precision and composure. The second goal may be regarded as a gift from Sunderland, but it still needed a clinical finish which the French striker provided. He took it with first touch. This day, he looked very sharp and did not look like the same player frequently associated with his frustrated gestures. 


Jenkinson: 6
Replaced injured Monreal at half time, slotting in at the right-back. Did well.

Flamini: 6
Came on for injured Koscielny in the 67th minute to be slotted into the left-back position. Worked hard as usual.

Gnabry: 6
73rd-minute substitute for Rosicky. Had a great chance after released by Wilshere's incisive pass, but failed to convert it by taking a touch too many.

No comments:

Post a Comment