Arsenal 0 – 0 Sunderland: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

Arsenal started the new season much like they’d done the previous one, with a goalless draw. Oddly enough, they’ve done so on only 5 occasions in 109 years…

… but it’s twice in a row now.

The game was quite predictable. Sunderland started with good energy and created a couple of chances early on. McClean really should have scored after he was free inside the box. Mertesacker had dropped deeper and played him on. The Sunderland winger though, could only hit it straight at Szczesny.

The Black Cats were getting some joy on the counter attack in the early minutes and the Gunners seemed to respond to that by putting the hand brake on and restraining the forward forays of the full-backs. The midfielders were also a bit cautious with their use of the ball and that closed the door on any opportunities the visitors could create.

Unfortunately for the Gunners though, this also meant their own attacking impetus took a hit. Arsenal attempted over 700 passes in this game and completed around 91 percent of those but most of it was in front of the Sunderland defence. In a way it felt that both teams hit a comfort zone in the first half, which suited Sunderland who’d come looking for a draw.

The visitors were happy to cede 10 yards or more to the wide players when they hugged the touchline. The Gunners didn’t find the wingers fast enough and the wide men, on their part, didn’t make enough diagonal or horizontal runs so it was easy for the defenders to shift across when the ball went wide. Sunderland routinely had 2 or even 3 players blocking the run/cross from wide areas.

Wenger’s side could not produce any clear cut chances in the first half. There were a couple of noteworthy shots from distance but the keeper was always going to save those. Podolski was close to getting on the end of a square ball in front of goal but that was well cleared by the defenders.

Arsenal showed more urgency as the game went on in the second half. It seemed the visitors were tiring and they weren’t getting as tight on their man as they’d done in the first half. The Gunners pushed more bodies forward to exploit the time and space available to them and there were large patches of the game when they were camped in the Sunderland half or even the final third.

To their credit, Martin O’Neill’s side remained committed and organized on and around the edge of their penalty box, which meant they could block most of the shots or deal with attempted through-balls. Often it was desperation stuff but it worked.

Wenger introduced Giroud for Podolski, Ramsey for Diaby, and Arshavin for Theo as the game edged towards a frustrating end. The only clear-cut chance for the Gunners came in the 82nd minute when Cazorla played a lovely reverse through-ball for Giroud. The Frenchman fired it well wide with his weaker right foot. Interestingly and for whatever it’s worth, OPTA stats didn’t show that as a clear-cut chance!

Wenger’s men had 23 shots in total compared to Sunderland’s 4 but only had 3 on target compared to 2 by the visitors. Arsenal did not have a single shot on target from inside the box. Part of that was down to poor creativity and finishing but some credit also goes to Sunderland who blocked 10 of the 23 shots.

From a defensive point of view the Gunners were rarely threatened after the initial adjustment was made so there isn’t much to analyze. I did see Mertesacker track Sessegnon deep into the Sunderland half on more than one occasion. That to me is a definite improvement. The big German didn’t let his man turn on the ball and that slowed the game down allowing others to run back and cover. In the past we’ve seen the defenders drop off a yard or two and this has allowed opposing strikers a chance to turn and run at them or pick forward passes. Still this is just one game so there can’t be any conclusions drawn. It’ll be something to follow in the forthcoming fixtures.

There’s very little else to analyze in such a laborious game except a few comments on individuals which I cover in the next section.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Paid day off for the Pole.

Jenkinson: Saw a lot of the ball but rarely in decisive areas. Space created by Walcott drifting inside wasn’t utilized effectively. Wasn’t tested defensively. Passing and crossing could have been better.

Mertesacker: Largely solid except that one moment where he played McClean onside early on. Kept it simple at the back. Good work of tracking the striker as discussed above.

Vermaelen: Arsenal’s captain did a lot of sweeping on the left side when Sunderland tried exploiting the space behind Gibbs. He also tried venturing forward but didn’t get any supply. Another one who had an efficient if unspectacular game.

Gibbs: Was probably the most energetic and adventurous of the defenders. Also made a number of vital tackles/interceptions. Got into useful attacking positions, especially in the second half, but wasn’t able to make a meaningful impact.

Trouble free day for the defenders at the back but more is expected once they get in the attacking areas.

Diaby: Defensive abilities weren’t really tested. Wasn’t able to drive the team forward at the required pace but didn’t make any major mistakes and came through without fitness worries.

Arteta: Was everywhere (119 passes, 96 percent accuracy, and 131 touches). Did a very good job of shielding the defence with a number of important tackles/interceptions. Had very little creative impact but that was mostly because of the fact that he was often the deepest lying midfielder and looking to keep things simple.

Cazorla: Created 7 chances but only one of those really stood out. He looked the classiest player on the pitch but a lot more is needed from such a player when the opponents are sitting deep and narrow. Wasn’t able to effectively link with Podolski and they got in each other’s way more than once. It wasn’t a bad performance by any measure but he clearly needs more time to gel with his teammates and adapt to the league. Physically he was brushed off the ball once or twice. He will have to quickly learn how to use his body strength better.

The three man midfield struggled against a side that played really narrow. Arsenal’s wide players just did not provide the clever link play needed against such a defence. That meant the midfield saw a lot of the ball but couldn’t produce sufficient penetration.

Walcott: Looked like he had greater freedom to roam and hang around in the central areas. But he wasn’t able to link with Podolski or the midfielders on a consistent basis. Was inconsistent with his touches and passes but there clearly was an effort to offer more.

Podolski: Dropped deep often but wasn’t really able to combine with the midfielders or the wide players. A number of good moments were squandered as he either made the wrong choice or picked the wrong pass. For instance, when Gervinho won the ball in front of his full-back, Poldi should have held his position and fed the run of the Ivorian via a one-two instead of making a run in-behind himself. In the second half Jenkinson had made an excellent forward run when the Gunners were on the break but the German didn’t see it and instead played a back pass which scuttled the attacking momentum. Even in the Cologne game Arsenal didn’t create many useful combinations in the second half when Poldi was playing down the middle. It’s a challenge for Arsene: Should he persist and give the player time or should he move him to the flank?

Gervinho: Probably the player who will divide the opinion of fans like no other in this game. Another typical ‘exciting and frustrating’ display from the winger. Attempted almost half the dribbles made by the whole side and succeeded with roughly half his attempts. Didn’t have any decisive product at the end of all the running and dribbling. All four of his shots were blocked as he attempted most after running into a crowd. Did get to the byline on a number of occasions but there is a difference between teams in Asia and those in the Premier League. Sunderland defenders forced mistakes once he did get there or just got in place to clear his cutbacks. Had a total loss of possession figure of 25 in a total of 73 touches.

A big part of the problem in attack was a lack of understanding between the front three and Cazorla. This will be rectified with practice but Arsenal cannot afford too many games where the attack doesn’t click. Having two quick runners who lose the ball often and don’t always make the right choice puts greater pressure on the midfield and Arsene will have to sort this out quickly. It’s not a new problem. Benayoun was last season’s temporary fix towards the end but a more permanent solution is needed.

Subs: Giroud missed the best chance of the game but his presence and movement was interesting. Ramsey did well with his passing, not so well in the duels, and probably tried too hard with his shooting. Arshavin looked energetic but also misplaced a couple of passes in risky areas.

Wenger: There isn’t much the manager can do when the players need more time to gel together but I thought he made the wrong choice in selecting both Walcott and Gervinho. Let’s see if he gives this system of two wingers some more time.

This wasn’t the start most fans or even the manager and players would have hoped for. Lack of an ideal pre-season could be an excuse but it was in Arsenal’s control. The new signings need time but that can’t be given as a reason for too long as the Gunners cannot afford another start like last season’s. Let’s also not forget this game was played against a Sunderland team that had only won 1 in 6 pre-season games and had lost against the likes of Leicester City and Hartlepool United.

Arsenal simply have to do better.

19 Responses to Arsenal 0 – 0 Sunderland: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. Adeniji ademola abdulahi,nigeria says:

    Good post as always,i thnk d team need more time 2 gel as d midfield need 2 connect d wideplayers more,pod need a more understanding like u rightly mentioned if he must play as a centre forward,d denfensiv presin was ok,i hope it improves.

  2. courtesyofwengermite says:

    Bloody dissapointed with Wenger and the board today and I’m normally an optimist.

    Why the fuck did they sell fucking Song?

    Yes we have a crowded midfield but there are very few at the moment that can equally cover effeactively defesnively as well as add threat going forward.

    Selling him ((with all due respect to his petulance), bearing in mind he has 3 years left on contract tp 2015 seems to me daft.

    Particularly as

    1) We are into the start of season, as good as MVila and Sahin maybe (and I very much doubt Wenger will buy both based on what he says about numbers in midfield), no DM can come in and effectively gel with the team immediately. Song has familiarity with the back4/Arteta at very least.

    2) Knowing our current capability gap in midfield with song’s departure, we are going to be held hostage to price and will not have benefit of the Wenger friendship price.

    3) Most importantly, whilst recent departures have been’acceptable’ bearing in mind the ‘top’ players concern were running down to last year in contract, Song is as mentioned 3 years from contract end.

    What’s the fucking hurry? It’s not as if he is gooing to enjoy regular playing time with Barca either. At very least sign an MOU with them offering to release him 4 months hence in Jan for a slight discount (with some performance criterias engineered in for us).

    …and get Affelay coming the other way with Walcott’s contractual discussions still up in the air.

    Currently with Song sold, it feels like all the hard work done bringing in the 3 new players have been negated and RVP’s stinging indictment of our ambition has somewhat been vindicated.

    4) Worse of all, this sets a vey bad precedence IMO to players, agents and clubs that we can be pressured to sell very easily even if the player is under contract with 3 years to go. Last I check, Song carries no regressive Catalan gene so I’m really perturbed as to why we have not shown more nerve and tenacity in this case.

    RVP’s deaprture leaves me with ambivalance. But Song’s frankly, I’m just boiling at the moment…clucking bell!

    (Excuse the expletives)

    • Gerry Lennon says:

      Yes, it is frustrating to say the least when a player sees ‘greener grass/ more moey elsewhere. But if a player doesn’t want to play at the club, I would rather sell now while there is still options out there, apart from the two you mention, than have dressing room disharmony, a repeat next January/July while failed contracts talks drag on. Instead, move on with the reality of the situation, take the money- and £18m is not to be sniffed at – get replacements in that suit this team.

    • Low on ambition Gooner says:

      Why Sell Song? Because RVP was the leader and the best player in the EPL last year. They (all the future MaC,ManU, Barca boys AKA AFC players) looked up to him! He spoke the truth and get the hell outta there. These players are also ambitious and if they feel they are in a stage to move on they will. Song felt he can win at Barca true and he moved on gracefully i might add. BTW selling isn’t all that bad specially when players want to leave and have options to make more money and win(league/Europe). But why sell them so late (allowing others big boys Barca/ManU/ManC) to demoralize your fans and players that is the most damning thing for me as Gunner even more frustrating than never replacing the quality we constantly lose. Why does Barca gets to buy Song (24 year old injury free, strong, skillful, experienced D/Ac Midfielder and international) for 15 mil? and slap him 80 mil Buy out clause! Because they are not a feeder team unlike Arsenal, and the Agents of the players Arsenal sign will never allow such clauses. We buy from lower Teams prepare them and send them to the big boys. Arsenal fans are actually proud and looking forward loaning a player from Real Madrid? Why not just buy a cheap french whatever you can find player who is hungry for attention and big payday with massive upside and play him(that is the Arsene best skill). At least we can sell such players for profit. Sucks to be and Arsenal Fan now but it could be worst i guess. New Castle when down and came back up! Arsenal always be….. but i will relax and watch money ball. I’ll actually want city to win just for grudge (no reason what so ever.) “Song wanted to go to Barca” that is true perhaps. But Arsene had to sell too in order to pay for Cazorla/LP/OGiroud, it is simple math really Nasri, Cecs and Clichy out Per, Arteta and Santos in. The later were little more expensive and had to be paid for. Dont expect anymore 15+ mil signings! Cheers. Our first game, we actually did ok considering the state of mind and lack of preparation.

    • cutt says:

      The truth is we are competing with likes of spuds, newcastle and liverpool etc etc…financially we can not compete or afford to pay super rich clubs wages. Therefore we will always be selling players once this super rich come calling.

      Best we can hope for is 3rd or 4rth place or winning a domestic Cup. Hey but that could change if Usminov takes over and brings in Guardiola for next season…calm down i m only dreaming!

  3. slugboy says:

    I thought that arshavin tried hard, but had too many mistakes. The team overall did not pressurise Sunderland enough trying to force mistakes. I saw frustration from cazorla as no one was making incisive runs for him to pick out. He is a great buy and will win us loads of games.

  4. The one thing Wenger MUST completely forget is to play one enter-forward. It is very restrictive and makes the team over reliant on that single player for goals, rendering the rest of the strikers at the club totally useless. This is why Chamakh was a total waste whenever he was brought on, because Wenger had denied him any playing time since Van Persie returned from injury in November 2011. His confidence hit its lowest because Wenger persistently refused to play him, yet as evidenced in the 3-3 draw against Norwich and the 4-3 reverse at Blackburn, Wenger could have played both him and Van Persie together. He didn’t and Chamakh got wasted, now the talk is to sell him, Poor Marouane!

    From that experience, there was no reason whatsoever why Wenger played only Podolski. Besides, Podolski is not your archetypal center-forward although he can play there. But players who only CAN, are called upon in times of crisis, just as Arshavin was asked to play center-forward when the recognised strikers were injured a couple of seasons ago. Giroud is the most accomplished center-forward we have on our books and should have started with Podolski playing behind him, or wide left where he would cut in to shoot at goal, just as he did in the Koln game in the first half.

    This means that Either Theo or Gervinho should have started on the bench, to come on when the Cats tired. Unfortunately, both started and Arsenal had no one to change the game since Chamberlain and Rosicky had already been ruled out because of injury. A tactical mistake by Wenger!!!

    Yes, players needed to gel. yes, some were tired having played for their countries in midweek, but Arsenal had it in their powers to beat Sunderland, if Wenger had got his selection and tactics right. Imagine Gervinho coming on in the 65th minute and running at the tired defenders with such verve! Arsenal should have bagged three points, for sure. But bringing on the Arshavins of this world reminded me of last season when Wenger brought on poor Park “to score against Man United” at the Emirates, Park who had not been trusted to play even 20 minutes of Premier League football!!

    If Wenger continues to play a solitary striker, we’re more than likely to see another Chamakh in either Giroud or Podolski, because no player improves by sitting on the bench!

    • santori says:

      Santi supporting the central striker is sufficient.

      We missed Song’s ball over the top today.

      If Sahin comes in, it may also allow us to switch to Podolski behind Giroud in the hole if need be.

      Early days yet and lots of hiccups to work through. But some positives with the movement today We will get better (hopefully quickly)

    • tuneric says:

      That is just the fact. We play the wrong formation (4-3-3) with wrong combination of players. With the way the boys played, a 4-4-2 formation would av won this match easily. Really Arsene needs to stand stall; he’s our main problem. Did I hear you say Rvp and Song are traitors? Wait until Jack Wilshere, Gibbs and Co matures and av a real good season.

  5. santori says:

    Cazola was a bright spark. YOu can feel the weight of expectation on his shoulders already. I would think Wenger needs at minimum 3 more players of his calibre to come in (DM, RW and Striker)

    Diaby I thought did rather well. he did good defensively (he has been for a year or so now in and around very sporadic appearances) and when going forward, he added that extra driving dimension (Santi showed that too) that only jack would otherwise provide for us, and sadly missing last season. Also good awareness to drive in centrally and then spread the ball out wide to stretch Sunderland. No suprise that young Gnabry mentioned him as amongst the players he was most impressed with.

    Question marks on his durability but good he lasted that long for a first competitive match

    Arteta was almost playing the holding role. I certainly hope Wenger resolves the Song replacement issue soon because whilst he showed great awareness, Arteta is no DM.

    What is it with the current Ligue one forwards we bring in? Gervinho, Chamakh, Giroud… do they play with larger goalmouths in France? Feels me with dread but I do think new boy Giroud shows great intelligence and if he settles shortly, will start finding the net sooner than later.(Still you wonder…)

    Communication issues amply evident with Poldy and Santi (etc) and expected.

    Thought Metersecker was solid as desi mentioned.

    Jenkinson I’m still not sure about. Can’t complain about the lad’s commitment and he does seem diligent defending but with the erratic Walcott out right, our RW seems a tad predictable.

    As menioned by poster above, why didn’ Wenger make a play for Affelay? (for Song)

    I won’t be terribly pessimistic about the draw, it’s early days yet but you do feel we need a bit more quality injected into the team again in certain areas.

    How Wenger has left the Song issue this late and into the start of season is beyond me. We certainly should have enough money in kitty to handle the situation regardless of the RVP sales.

    Last year the estimate by Swiss Ramble on cash in hand (160m)was a transfer budget of 50m (or roughly a third). We ended up spending 55m and Gazidis mentioned keeping some powder dry. Unless he meant his personal stash of Coke which he invested in, that would let me to believe maybe we were sanctioned to spend up to half the cash in hand or 80m

    This summer we had 116m cash in hand in the books. Going by Swiss Rambles matrix (simplistic slightly but acceptable I feel), that should mean a third would make 35m which is very close to what we spent on 3 new signings BEFORE we sold RVP.

    That to me would suggest we should have 22.5m roughly still available BEFORE as Song sale. So quite why we are pressured to surreptitiously rid ourselves of Song is anyone’s guess and bears some investigation.

    I agree that motivation alone to me is not sufficient an excuse nor Darren Dein. By mechanics of the team, at very least we should be keeping him a year till a new player in that role settles.

    Anyway, hope we see a resolution in that department and that we can convince Real to seel on Sahin to us. The loan will be short term and may create further issues down the line for us. Bearing in mind Rosicky is 29 years in footballing age but 41 in injury age, I would have thought Sahin would come in more in an Arteta role but fill into the space vacated by a departing Czech next summer.

    What is clear is that we still need more quality around Cazola lest frustration (and expectations) start to overload him this early on.

    I would also be on the look out for a third striker but I suppose we are dependant with this one on

    1) Movement out of club by Chamakh to free up the wage structure (and Bendtner Park if poss)

    2) Opportunities closer to end of windowas Wenger can afford to gambel a little on this one.

    To me, we should be looking at a younger striker (as both Giroud and Poldy are entering peak age). Pref someone with speed( as an alternate to Giroud’s physicality) too and great technicality (to complement Santi)

    leandro (22), if his price eases, jovetic(22) or maybe even Pato (22)should bear watching. The latter injury prone and somewhat stale at Milan but being that he will more likely be an impact player for us, worth the gamble if price is right.

    • Gerry Lennon says:

      I am almost repeating what I said to the earlier comment. AW isn’t in a position to not ‘allow’ this situation to happen. If a player gives the nod to his agent to ‘see what is out there’, and then responds to the carrots dangled, then that is beyond his control. If you are arguing on the history of the last 7 years, with a strict wage structure, lack of silverware that has created the climate for these players attitude? then that is a different argument to the here and now. And again, AW worked within the restrictions given him.
      As for Song making a diiference today … mmn, debatable. The ‘over the top balls’ you crave were aimed at RVP. He is not with us anymore. For many fans, the times those balls failed would have meant loss of possession, and the succcessful ones may have meant the same, as the players we have got have different skills to RVP. Not to mention we would have lost width on one flank or another which would have made their brick wall defence easier to cover..
      I will agree that we did not make the best use of our wide men, partly due to the palyers themselves. But as has been said, these things will improve as the season progresses.. As will the matter of Song’s replacement, which could see the likes of Arteta getting more involved.

      • Wengerism says:

        keeping to wage structure is not the issue. Selling Song isn;t either.

        the question here is whether we should condone the type of behavior and open the door for more similar antics.

        Admitedly Song was being a wanker and demanding more money.

        I would have preferred us pay him for a season at a higher wage he demands and sell him the following year.

        But yes, maybe the situation got a litle out of Wenger’s control.

        There is risk to our season without Song at the mment. Hewas the most defensive minded midfielder in the team and more physical than Arteta.

        We simply don’t have anyone like him. Even if Sahin comes in, he needs time to settle. lets hope he does it quickly.

        the other issue is that we lose some attacking edge without Song (11 assists last season)

        It’s not a small matter.

        Essentially we are again effectively losing 2(possibly 3 with Walcott) of our top performers last season.

        Who we bring in next (3 top players need come in in my estimation) is crucial.

        BUt getting pushed around by the likes of Song with 3 seasons left on contract is not healthy.

  6. Bradster says:

    On your last point, i doubt Sunderland parked the bus against those lowly teams.
    My take is that we all knew Sunderland’s game plan, what was the instructions for the team to counter it? Surely after at least 3 seasons of park the bus counter attack we would’ve tried something else to counter it. I thought that’s what Chamakh initially came in for.
    Teams will see that it still works against us and we were lucky McClean can’t finish. So expect more of the same.

  7. Gerry Lennon says:

    Great write up. Much as I watched on the Arsenal player this morning. I thought AOC was the player that might have made the difference had he been fit. Hs quick interchange with Cazorla and Theo looked sharper. Also, whilst Jenkinson did a sound job, it is possible Yennaris might have stuck to the touchline a little more, instead of moving inside so often. I hope he does get another chance to show what he can do.

  8. Donald Anderson says:

    It wasnt quite d start we expected 4rm d gunners yesterday against Sunderland buh it was an above average performance by Arsenal considering d fact dat we lost Robin Van Cash n Alex Song just few days 2d start of d season. This must surely av played a lot on d minds of d players psychologically b4 d game considering d affection n affinity dat has encompassed d whole team all dis yrs playing 2geda like a family. Again, d new players aint settled down fully yet, dey still r in a new environment n a new habitat trying 2 adapt 2d footballing behavioural tendencies dat surrounds such a change. But,i feel dey still showed d glimpse of wat will come 1nce dey gel like a family again wit d old members. It’s just a matter of lil’ tym n dey’ll tek ova d driving sit. Once dey do, i bet u we aint gonna look bak. All we need now is just a thorough replacement 4 Song wit a good DM whose mind isnt on attacking buh on shielding d back 4 as a solid rock. Dis should b in d mould of M’villa d Rennes DM n not Sahin. Do not c why we need Sahin wen we’v got lots of AM already. All said, it wasnt a bad start afterall by d gooners considering wat Liverpool faced last nyt. Gunner till i c God face-2-face!……1luv!!

  9. dada says:

    song’s gone lets get over it. m’villa-in…alan johnson-in and another rightback..with wilshere about to recover and chambelin..i think we are ok.

    • Wengerism says:

      You joking?

      Another Rback? Not going to happen.

      Who is Alan Johnson? Prefer Affelay suggestion.

      Sahin coming in. Don’t think we will bring in any more midfielders after that.

      Maybe one more striker to increase odd because front line is all new (unless cannot get rid of Chamakh)

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