View From The North Bank: Arsenal 2 Sunderland 1
If one game can sum up a team then yesterday’s encounter with Sunderland had Arsenal written all over it. With most teams you get the good and bad on separate days, at Arsenal, you can pack it all into a single half.
The game started perfectly. Rosicky’s chipped pass found Gervinho out on the left who ran straight at his marker before slipping the ball inside to Van Persie. The Dutchman made no mistake from the edge of the box, flashing his right footed drive past a helpless Mignolet.
A goal after 29 seconds had the visitors on the ropes and Van Persie sought to punish them further. Aside from the goals, the moment of the match was the captain’s deft spin and gorgeous chip. A piece of skill of that quality deserved a goal. In fact it deserved better than just a goal; it was a moment of individual brilliance that spoke of a man in the form of his life. The Emirates faithful rose as one to give the player a standing ovation, only stopping to gasp at the replay on the big screen.
Our dominance was such that Gervinho and Van Perise could have added to the tally, however our failure to do so was not unexpected; we have grown used to territorial dominance with a lack of end product. As the half wore on the pace dropped and our possession lacked authority. The comfort of the first 25 minutes diminished rapidly and we found ourselves scrapping to stay in control.
Arsenal’s high line was exposed by a ball over the top which released Sessegnon. Szczesny charged out of goal but couldn’t make the clearance. The visitors weren’t able to exploit that opportunity but it wouldn’t take long. That one moment of defensive instability seemed to grip the team. No one seemed able to take charge and a series of scuffed clearances led to the concession of a soft free-kick on the edge of our box. Seb Larsson stepped up to score what would ultimately be remembered as the second best free-kick of the game.
Sunderland came to the Emirates without a recognised striker to lead the line and, as I predicted on Friday, with no serious intention of creating a chance from open play. It’s frightening to recognise that we are still capable of giving an opponent with so little ambition three good chances in the space of 10 minutes. But for a poor finish from Colback and an early save of the season contender from our stopper, we’d have met the half way point of a game we’d dominated on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline.
This is well worn territory, we all know that Arsenal have been vulnerable so far this season. This might provide a bit of an explanation for why we looked so wobbly so quickly. The fans have recent drubbings in mind and it’s impossible to think that the players don’t remember that too. Confidence is still fragile so we must hope that when the momentum gathers we will be better placed to avert the panic that gripped us here.
The second half played out as so many have since our move to The Emirates. Our opponents had something to cling too, albeit something they didn’t deserve, and sat even deeper than they had in the first half. Steve Bruce’s team didn’t have an attempt at goal in the entire second period. It was therefore down to us to break them down.
In truth the second half performance was generally encouraging. It wasn’t as fluent as the early exchanges but it’s difficult to cut through a side prepared only to defend. We looked committed though and there was a feeling that we were up for the challenge. Alex Song was dominant, winning back possession and thrusting forward, although his passing wasn’t great. Santos and Jenkinson both foraged well and the introduction of Arshavin saw another challenger for the award of “Almost Goal of The Season”.
The Russian nearly capped a lively cameo when he got his head down and slalomed through the Sunderland defence, his stabbed left foot effort narrowly missing the far post. There’s no doubt that he can be frustrating but if he can find these moment of magic again he’ll be forgiven his quiet moments.
From there, a series of cynical fouls disrupted our rhythm. It might be a bit of a pointless gripe but there are few things more frustrating in Football than a player clearly tripping an opponent, with no intention of winning the ball, and happily taking a yellow card safe in the knowledge that he’s averted a threatening breakaway. All sides do it but it seems wrong that a blatant trip or shirt grab warrants the same punishment that Van Persie would later receive for celebrating his winning goal by simply removing his shirt.
Sunderland’s desperate fouls led to a series of free kicks, systematically wasted by Santos, Arteta and Walcott. By the time Van Persie placed the ball to attempt a winner I was slumped in my seat bemoaning the modern trend for shooting from every free-kick. Once upon a time, I whinged, a full back used to loft the ball into the box for his team mates to attack. Nowadays every team has a queue of players who think they’re capable of placing the ball out of the keepers’ reach.
Thankfully, we do have a player capable of doing that. Van Persie used to make a habit of scoring from free-kicks yet, by his own admission, it’s been a while since his last one. It was worth waiting for and, on a personal level, it was worth having my old fashioned views on set-pieces rammed back down my throat.
In all, it was a deserved victory and one that will go some way towards restoring the momentum we had threatened to build in September. It’s been said many times but our recovery will not be completed by talking about turned corners, it will be a long hard slog on the pitch. All we can do is work hard to get the desired results game by game. Three points from the (third) first game of the season should never be sniffed at.
Keep The Faith.