Sunderland 1 – 2 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

What a big win, and a big loss! Conceding the goal in that manner added another chapter to the special Arsenal edition of 101 Extraordinary Ways To Concede A Goal. While the remarkable comeback in extremely trying circumstances completely countered the impact of that goal in the short term, the injury to Mertesacker will make the future games all the more challenging. Then again, what’s an Arsenal season without persistent injury worries.

Focusing on the game itself, the stand out observation was the appalling condition of the pitch that would likely shame many of the lower division sides. It’s hard to digest that even in 2012 the football community does not have better guidelines for minimum quality of playing conditions, especially when such high quality professionals are involved and at risk. I shudder at the thought of seeing the players out on that pitch again next Saturday.

Tactically the game was quite predictable. Sunderland got bodies behind the ball, often with the highest man halfway inside their own half. They chased every ball in their defensive third, excelled at maintaining their discipline and structure, forced Arsenal wide and minimized, almost eliminated, the opportunities to create quality chances.

In attack, the hosts were limited to long balls down the channels that helped them reach the Arsenal final third. They did win a few set-pieces but rarely threatened. A lucky goal and a long range strike or two were all they could muster.

The Gunners struggled for various reasons. The pitch and dogged quality of defending aside, Arsenal were exposed for their inability to threaten from wide areas. There were many occasions when the passing and movement created half a yard or more for a wide player but either the cross was poor or there just weren’t enough targets in the box. A degree of pre-determined, functional attacking approach is needed to succeed in such situations but Arsenal haven’t quite mastered it yet. With greater emphasis on wide players getting in behind this season, Wenger’s side have improved their crossing and movement but are still a long way away from being considered a top class side in that regard.

On the rare occasions when the players did find space in the attacking third, either their touch let them down (often due to the difficulty in controlling a wobbly ball) or their decision making wasn’t up to scratch.

As a result, Arsenal too, created few noteworthy chances but in keeping with the stunning conversion rate of the previous game, they managed to find the back of the net twice despite few shots on target.

The first goal was all about Ramsey. He’d taken up a good position on the edge of the box and was lucky that Arteta’s hopeful strike rebounded in his direction. But the way Ramsey hit the bouncing ball, spinning his shooting foot in an anti-clockwise manner to guide a bouncing ball towards the far corner, away from the defenders coming out to block, was commendable. Again he was a bit fortunate with the deflections off the goalposts but it’s hard to hold that against him or the Gunners given the way Sunderland scored their goal.

Oddly enough, before the game Arsenal had only 4 goals from outside the box while the hosts had 10. But in this fixture it was the Gunners who struck a vital blow from distance.

The winner came in injury time when Arshavin floated a perfect cross in for Henry to guide home. It’s worth noting that the two best crosses from Arsenal came from Arshavin in the final few minutes.

Henry’s instincts were superb and it’s almost impossible to teach something like that. It’s the reason he’s above the other strikers in the pecking order, despite a lower work rate and a seemingly lackadaisical attitude.

Similarly, Arshavin’s ability to find a cross between two defenders was exceptional. Not only that, he was able to deliver it perfectly between the two central defenders. Oxlade-Chamberlain was in such positions often during the game but inevitably ran into the defenders while trying to take them on. Just shows the talented young man has a lot to learn. No shame in that of course, but often the hype machine in overdrive tends to miss the relevant details.

With two strong wins Arsenal have now turned the tide around after a disappointing start to the new year. Milan have had a few blips of their own recently and it’s set up a very exciting first leg at the San Siro.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: He made a couple of good saves. Was generally confident with his catching and movement. Had one iffy moment when he came out of the box and almost had another mix-up with Koscielny. Questionable positioning for the goal. He was inside the goalpost and thus wasn’t cutting the angle for the strike. Could have come a yard or two out to narrow the angle and make it hard for McClean.

Sagna: Had a tough time on the Right but did an excellent job. Won 9 of his 10 aerial duels (contributing immensely to Arsenal’s astonishing success rate, 15/17, in AD). Also won all his tackles and was successful with his clearances. There were occasions when Sunderland got past him but he was tenacious enough to track back and limit the damage to a corner or a throw.

Mertesacker: Won all his tackles, aerial and ground duels. Very solid game at the back till he was injured. Also saw a lot of the ball as Arsenal moved it around the centre line, and was generally efficient in distribution.

Koscielny: Another player who saw a lot of the ball and had a team-high 97 percent passing success rate. Did venture forward occasionally but couldn’t really make an impact. Wasn’t as successful with his tackles but didn’t really let the team down either.

Vermaelen: It was interesting to see him high up the pitch on numerous occasions, often a lot more advanced than Oxlade-Chamberlain. But he wasn’t able to link up with the youngster as well as one would hope for. Wasn’t half as busy as Sagna at the other end.

The back four weren’t under pressure except for the moments when Sunderland were able to deliver balls into the box. They handled most of the crosses fairly well but there were a couple of occasions when the ball dropped to the unmarked Gardner around the edge of the box. Arsenal must also find a better way to use the ability of the full-backs to move up the pitch. Neither linked up well with the wingers and Sunderland were quite safe despite ceding the wide areas a number of times.

Song: Was dominating in the middle but also misplaced some key passes. It’s probably harsh to blame him given the condition of the pitch. Had an efficient game defensively making a couple of vital tackles when playing as Centre Back.

Arteta: Clocked over a hundred successful passes with 94% accuracy. Was all over the pitch and kept the game ticking but wasn’t really able to provide any incision. Might have done better if Arsenal got more bodies into the box.

Rosicky: Rosicky was able to get in between the lines on a few occasions but either he couldn’t make the best use of his position – inappropriate decision, over hit through-ball, execution not quite working out, etc – leading to the highest Total loss of possession figure in the side, or he didn’t get the right support like the time Van Persie couldn’t play it back to him when he was getting in behind. Nevertheless it was a hard working effort that saw Little Mozart make the most interceptions and also lead the possession won in midfield stat.

Ramsey: Technically excellent, opportunistic finish ( even if he didn’t connect as well as he’d have liked), completed 28 of his 29 passes. Also had a decent defensive shift and didn’t look sloppy in possession.

The midfielders had a lot of time on the ball but with a wall of Sunderland bodies in front they couldn’t really find the attacking players in an incisive manner. Arsenal also lacked a midfield player who could arrive into the box to get on the end of crosses.

Walcott: He was almost always in a crowd. Rarely got a chance to run in behind. On one occasion he did that, Theo produced a decent strike across the face of goal. Should have done better with his crosses. He has to maintain his composure in tight spaces and should not just attempt a cross for the sake of crossing.

RvP: Was persistently fouled but maintained his composure. His touch wasn’t at its usual level but the bouncing ball had a lot to contribute to that. Still created the most chances and never stopped trying.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Probably tried too many dribbles for such conditions and opposition tactics. Movement off the ball and decision making on it needs a lot of work but that’s understandable.

Sunderland went really tight on RvP and always had two men on the wide players. This made it hard for all of them but one would like to see some tactical flexibility from Arsenal. For instance, pre-determined crosses to the back post with the other winger arriving is one option. Better use of the width provided by the Full Backs with the wide players playing on the edge of the box for a stretch of time is another. The wingers should also have swapped positions occasionally.

Subs: Arshavin must be commended for his professionalism apart from his obvious quality on the ball. Hopefully, he will be shown the respect he deserves. Henry owns the penalty box, the very definition of a super-sub.

Wenger: Picked the right team, wasn’t afraid of introducing Ramsey or Arshavin. Has managed to keep their spirits high despite unjustified and incessant criticism. Deserves credit for getting the performance out of the players in such conditions.

33 Responses to Sunderland 1 – 2 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. draiggogh says:

    I really enjoy your articles,up there with the very best.Thanks

  2. Dobbi says:

    The reason Roscky had the most uncompleted passes was (in my view at least) because he was the driving force of our forward play in the first half and to a lesser extent in the second. Man of the match for me.

    • santori says:

      That’s where Statistics can only partially tell the story.

      Excellent shift from the ‘young’ Czech. He moves things along far quicker than Ramsey at present.

      • JJ Pittman says:

        I am a huge fan of Little Mozart, but he is 31, less than half my age, but not “young”. Still prefer him in the middle over Rammer, and hope we keep both of them.

    • jeff says:

      I agree.. He dares to go for through ball although sunderland was defensively very solid,tight,and discipline.. That’s why he might have highest unsuccessful pass.. But he’s the only one who tried to make something happened.. Ox-rvp-walcott were struggeling up front,and walcott final ball was dissapointing as ever.. Hm.. The way arteta is playing could easily gives him highest percentage of successful passing.. I love him but we need that risky pass to score against a team like sunderland..

  3. santori says:

    A number of ‘observations” :

    1) The Gaffer got it tactically right and made some telling substitutions. I’ve been on his case about tactics but as I’ve also mentioned, he’s no mug either, particularly when up against the likes of MOaNer. Well done with the subs and going for the win. Agree with Desi that Arsharvin could have come on slightly earlier. We left it uncomfrtably late.

    2) Ramsey has been unrightfully slagged off in recent weeks. What a great way to prove his critics wrong. I don’t think he is anywhere near finish article but what’s great about this lad is he isn’t afraid to have a go fro distance whcih is what we need to open teams sitting deep up a little (in this case sink them) What he does need to improve his his defensive game. He gets beat far too easily at the moment but as with everything that would come with time (hopefully sooner than later) I stick by my thoughts that (along with better defnsive tactical acumen), his game will improve ten fold if he played with 5% more aggression/edge ala Rosicky.

    3) Arsharvin. Another who has been given unfair short rift by the faithful and has proven his critics wrong. If you think about the number of crucial assists he has weighed in with despite lacking playing time this season, it is clear that Wenger is correct in saying that he is a very effecient player.That ball to Henry was top quality and the sort of unpredictability the Russian brings to our game to compliment the more direct play of our current crop of wingers. An unpredictability we will have to replace IF/when the Russian leaves this summer (Hence someone in the mold of Hazard is a must, and there are not many)

    4) Walcott. Whislt it was fantastic to have Sagna back affording us excellent cover defensively, I do think Walcott misses the creative influence of young Le Coq out wide. Not that our transitions were sharp enough or that we were afforded more space (given the conditions) by a better Sunderland side (than Blackburn) but I thought Le Coq a great compliment to Walcott in freeing up spcae going forward. He is alsoa better crosser of the ball than Bacary.

    On the flip side, Walcott’s defensive game (Another young player still coming to grips with the ropes) needs work. On one instance he was caught ball watching and was righfully slagged off by Sagna.

    He did of course make one excellent strike on goal which was inches away and one must temper any criticism of Walcott with the fact that the current golden boy Chamberlain was equally ineffective on the other wing.

    5) Henry. LEGEND. One more goal please Titi, I don’t believe you’ve scored int the CL yet this season.:D

    Chamakh comes back to the fold but I still think we made a mistake not arming ourselves with a ‘long term’ solution in this department in January given what we may have to face in the market this summer (even if we do qualify in 4th…or 3rd)

    • JJ Pittman says:

      Great reply, worthy of a blog on its own. Interesting to wonder if the offensive substitution: Ramsey for Mertesacker would have been made if Per didn’t tear himself up?
      I would start both Arshavin and Titi at the San Siro.

      • santori says:

        I wouldn’t dare to write a blog. I believe that requires quite some discipline than merely reply at great length.:D

        I’ll leave that to Desi.

        I do enjoy a good banter though…

    • Dhruv says:

      Hi Santori, typos sometimes can disinterest people, so you might want to check your post/comment.

      I agree about Le Coq, he was missed in this match, he could have created some space and opportunities with his trickery.

      • santori says:

        @dhruv…duly noted.

        I’ll try but my finger is still hurting after that one.:D

        What I think will be fascinating will be who ends up as Sagna’s alternate? Le Coq or Jenkinson.

  4. santori says:

    Hate to be the first to comment.

    Just one more thing, “Stadium of Light”, maybe if they didn’t have so damm many lightbulbs, we wouldn’t be able to quite see how shite their turf really is. Cue “How many Geaordies does it take to change the lightbulbs” joke. 😀

  5. Good stuff again Desi.
    Respect is exactly what Andrei deserves.

  6. Willy young says:

    Great assist by AA yesterday but to suddenly make out he has been unfairly criticised is ridiculous. He has been awful most of this season and as one of the best paid players at the club should be able to produce the odd creative pass. As an Arsenal fan I hope he can reproduce the form of his first half season but seriously doubt it.

    We are building momentum which is great given 6 huge games to come in a row. Rosicky who I must confess I had given up on has had3-4 good games in a row ( will he ever score again?)

  7. Willy young
    How wrong and how often will you be wrong before you accept you are,well wrong.

    • Dhruv says:

      George, Willy is partly right, Arshavin has been inconsistent and sometimes you need two players to cover him because you are not sure when he is going to lose the ball. He is a gifted player no doubt, but he has not fit in Arsenal system.

      • santori says:

        I think he is both quality (as we all know) and inconsistent.

        But he only needs that one moment to unlock the game.

        My feeling is that he struggles with the pace of it all out wide as he has aged somewhat (plus he isn’t the tallest). He may fare better centrally but we won’t know this given the current system (which has it’s own merits of course)

  8. John says:

    Great result yesterday and excellent/fair analysis as always Desi your site is class and keep up the great work.

    Regarding Arshivan i think respect works both ways when you were the Arsenal shirt you give 100% or try to every game. Forget about ability for a moment. The fans will love you if you give your all for the club and the team thats exactly what you are paid to do ex V persie, Wilshere, Vermanlen, Kozzer and Sagna.

    The fans have turned on Arshivan because his performances have been disgraceful this is a fact and its been for well over a year now.

    You can get away with not tracking back if you are Messi or Ronaldo, but he has been off form for?? I cant remember when he was on form???

    My point is when things are not going for you the one thing you must do for your teamates and club is help defend and Arshivan has not dug in when needed hence why fans have turned on him.

    Please dont start with stuff like he is a striker/offensive player Rooney tracks back for Utd as does Giggs you attack and defend as a team simply

  9. ch says:

    Great game, a technical one, that was why the game was packed. I expected Sunderland to come out a bit since they were at home, but that wasn’t the case. A different type of game that brought out another positive side of Arsenal. This was a game i scored higher for Arsenal than the Blackburn game for some reasons (has nothing to do with the goals).

    1. It was an away fixture
    2. Sunderland is a stronger team than Blackburn
    3. Playing against a very conservative coach
    4. Arsenal had to come from behind late on

    I think all this brought out the best of Wenger’s technical input in recent times, especially the substitutions. Not because they subs scored the goals and also provided assist, but they were the right subs for this kind of game (packed game).

    Ramsey – mobile player, gets into good attack positions often, lacks quick decision and most importantly a good ball holder.

    Arshavin – a player that gets into good attack position, affected by indecision at times (often confused), but a good crosser of the ball and has a strong will to drive.

    Henry – a veteran, don’t have the great qualities anymore, but still have good positioning, wonderful instinct and good composure in front of goal.

    These were the right players for a game of this nature, but better of as subs. They game was too choked and needed players that can hold the ball comfortably, move into attack positions and cross the ball well, since players will be advancing into the opponents area searching for an equalizer or a win.

    For the rest of the team, good concentration level, purposeful play and the hunger to win. – A sense of CHARACTER.

    There were lots of positives to take from this game.

    Kudos to Wenger. Great game!

  10. Chikezie Chinke says:

    Sorry the post above named ch is my post, i mistakingly hit the enter button, while typing my name.


  11. paijo aja says:

    what a super subs..!! sadly mertesacker got injured.. maybe blessing i disgused for verma that complain in LB… hope for milan gibbs can play… can wait for this formation in milan… hehehe…




    walcot/arsha…..van persie…..AOC

    btw, ryo outstanding in bolton… just great to hear that…

  12. Philip says:

    Great analysis Desi. I enjoy reading your thoughts and comments.

    I have always had a soft spot for Arshavin since he signed for the Gunners. While he has his failings, he has the ability to get you out of your seat and make things happen with a moment of pure brilliance (like he did against Sunderland). At least two goals that he has scored for Arsenal would be in the all time top 20 greatest Arsenal goals ever. His second (of the 4 against Liverpool) was an absolute belter and the winning goal scored against Barcelona last year was one of the greatest moments in the club’s history. When Arshavin leaves Arsenal, I hope he leaves on a positive note. He will always have my support while he is an Arsenal player.

    • Dhruv says:

      I agree with you Philip. I too like Arshavin immensely but someone has to be blind not to see the failings. Thanks for the memories Arshavin. Best of luck.

    • Bayonne Jean says:

      I’d add a third goal — game winner at Anfield in 2009. That was a laser that had Reina like a statue for a good minute afterwards.

  13. arv says:

    King TH. King TH.
    moved us ahead in the FA Cup. Moved us to 4th place in league.
    Heres to hoping your goal scoring can help us on Wed!
    My fave player of all time TH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Dhruv says:

    Enjoyed your article Desi which is a day late and I was waiting for it.

    Arteta and Sagna were so calm, best players IMO. Good recovery from team after being a goal down. We already saw in the FA match against Aston Villa that this team does have belief. That win was slightly lucky (2 penalties and 1 lucky rebound) but no doubts about this one.

    Ramsey was an inspired substitution, he gives everything for the team. Sure he needs to improve his game but I have plenty of hope for this young man.

    Arshavin is so good when he gets it right, however, it happens only once in a long while. At the end of his career, Arshavin will feel good that he had an assist to the legend Henry’s goal, he would not have expected that to happen when he signed for Arsenal.

  15. John says:

    Its easy to understand Arshivan game he is a lazy SOB and leaves his teamates swinging when its time to defend. Theres nothing igorant about it and a player with that lack of wok ethic is a target for fans because he is not pulling his wait for the team.

    Yes Arshivan has talent thats want makes this situation so bloody annoying if he put in the effort his form would most likely turn around instead of sulking or giving up.

    Did you really think because he made an assit on Sat that makes his performances the past year acceptable cos I dont.

    Great players play at a top level week in week out thats why they are a cut above not one game every twenty.

    His career with Arsenal has been rubbish if he look in the mirror and was honest even he would admit that. I couldnt take a wage if I was as bad at my job as he has been.

  16. Abhishek Jajodia says:

    I want to see Arshavin have a run in the middle of the pitch as the primary playmaker. He always fancied that position, and with the likes of Arteta and Song in to cover his defensive frailties, it would not be too much of a gamble. Ros is more in the mould of Arteta, where he looks at distribution and spraying of passes around the pitch as much as a deadly through ball.

    Just one good run of games with Arsh in the middle.

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