I don’t remember the last time I was so frustrated by an Arsenal performance. It was as bad as any relegation threatened side plays, perhaps worse. I don’t claim to have a memory that covers every game in the Wenger era but this will certainly be amongst the worst his team have played.
As you must have gathered by now I’m not in a good mood and this post is part rant, part discussion, and part release of the steam in my head from a boiling brain.
Before I get to Arsenal, I’ll say Dowd had a shocking game. The sending off was the work of a man wanting to prove some point rather than a ref taking a well thought through decision. This was evident from the countless fouls Sunderland got away with and the fact that Bramble and a couple of other Sunderland players were not booked for fouls that were much worse. Having said all that, the ref did get the penalty decision right and I would not blame him for the result. His performance wasn’t a surprise and we should have done better.
Sunderland for their part worked really hard and put us under pressure. All credit to them for their endeavour. Hard work isn’t enough to win a game and for all their dominance of the ball the hosts barely created anything of note. It wasn’t a surprise either as the typical ‘English’ approach – “put the ball in the box and hope for the best” – doesn’t always work. It did in the fifteen seconds that were added after the four added minutes but I don’t think Sunderland deserved anything from this game. That doesn’t mean Arsenal deserved three points. This was one of the games where neither team deserved anything and perhaps one could say the draw was as fair as a result could be in such a case.
That brings me to back Arsenal. The goal we scored was as freakish as I truly hope this display will be in the context of our season. The goal we conceded was typical last minute madness; the defence had no support from the midfield and the main goal scorer in the opposition side was unmarked in our six yard box.
We had a chance to seal the win but Rosicky blasted his penalty over the top. I have no clue why he took the penalty in the first place! The Czech star hasn’t played regularly, his shooting has been completely off radar, and he never looked confident. I’m sure we would have won the game if we had scored the second. So leaving aside the appalling refereeing and pathetic football, Rosicky will get bulk of the blame for the two points dropped.
To be fair to the players we did play better in the second half but it was not good enough. The basic problem in this game was twofold; we hardly won any second balls from all the aerial play that went on, and we lost far too many physical battles giving the ball away on countless occasions. As a result we never got our game flowing and Sunderland found it far too easy to work the channels and get their crosses in.
Despite that the hosts barely created anything of note and a great deal of credit goes to Koscielny and Squillaci, who both played really well. If we had Vermaelen and Gallas in this game we might have conceded three or four goals. Nothing against Vermaelen but he can’t win as many headers and doesn’t close people down as well as Koscielny did.
Rosicky and Nasri deserve some credit for the composure they showed in the second half. It’s a shame that Wilshere and Song were quite poor in the first half and Cesc was off-colour even before getting injured. If all our midfielders had shown the kind of composure that Nasri and Rosicky did then this would have been a much easier game. It wasn’t surprising that we looked the better team every time we managed to get the ball on the ground.
This is also a game where a couple of good shots from distance or a decent set-piece could have made the difference. It continues to worry me that we just don’t have any real quality on set-plays when RvP is injured. That’s a complicated topic so I won’t discuss it right now.
Now that some of the steam is gone from my head, I’d like to mention that there were a few positives from this game. The performance of the defenders and the keeper was very good despite being under pressure for most of the game. If we had held on it would have been a massive result. The fact that we did not means that the positive vibes created by the start will be diminished and the Misery Brigade will find some voice.
I don’t think we should read too much into this game. Hopefully, this will be a one-off. The second half gave us enough signs that we can do much better.
Almunia: Caught what had to be caught, punched well, came off his line when needed, very solid.
Sagna: Worked hard in defence and went forward when he got the chance. Couldn’t have done much more in such a game.
Squillaci: Contested well for the headers, did a good job of closing down the attackers.
Koscielny: Probably won more headers than any Arsenal defender has won in the last few years. Never gave anyone a clear sight of goal. MotM in my opinion.
Clichy: Did fairly well defending on the wing without much support. Was decent in the second half but he’s lost his attacking threat. Not sure if such a wild clearance at the end was a good choice but he didn’t have many options. I’ll have to see the goal again before deciding on this.
Song: It was a stupid performance from Song. I’ve no idea why he has developed this sudden urge for going forward. His sending off was harsh but he did commit some needless fouls. His reactions to the ref were quite dumb as well considering he isn’t English and plays for Arsenal!
Wilshere: Really struggled in the first half. Gave the ball away regularly, hardly got into space to receive a pass. Often hoofed the ball even when he wasn’t under pressure quite like a Bolton midfielder would do. Did much better in the second half. As I’d mentioned previously, he’ll struggle a bit when teams don’t give our players time and space on the ball. It’s to be expected, others should have done better and he should have been allowed to go further forward.
Cesc: Was missing even when he was on the pitch. Scored one of the craziest goals ever, showed the value of pressing high up the pitch.
Nasri: Worked hard on the wing. Did well later on in the game when we tried to keep the ball. Did really well to win the penalty and should have taken it himself.
Chamakh: Worked his socks off, can’t really fault him. Could have done better when he was through on goal but it happens to everyone.
Arshavin: Rubbish. Hardly any contribution in attack or defence. Didn’t look sharp or motivated. Should have been subbed latest by half-time.
Subs: Rosicky did well in terms of keeping the ball but missed a golden chance. Should have played deeper from the time he came on to help out Wilshere in the same way that Cesc did against Bolton. Denilson made some good tackles but almost gave a goal away on one occasion. Almost scored late on.