The first half, especially the first six minutes, were sluggish. There was a crispness in the passing that was missing. It was hard to get excited, not to mention how quiet the crowd was. As an overseas supporter I was expecting the fans to be really vocal and get behind the club. Unity is what we need; Wenger will bring in more people shortly.
There’s not much to write on for the first half, it really comes down to passing and Sunderland putting everyone behind the ball. We’ve seen those tactics from Sunderland and especially from Martin O’Neill. So as Arsenal maintained possession, they enter the break desperate to find a way to move it more forward.
With the break comes a lecture, it’s not a chat or a pat on the back, it’s a lecture. Wenger earns his keep today with Bould by getting the lads focused on what they need to do. We see immediate results as passing are hit harder, assured of reaching their targets. As the ball moved faster, Sunderland lost the flow and the ability to stay with the play. Only Lee Cattermole could keep it going, and that normally would only last until he gets a card or two.
Giroud’s miss will be a talking point for many, but it’s not the only chance missed. What if Cazorla would have let Podolski turn the ball in the box into the net? Could Walcott have passed his half-volley across the 6yard box for an easy tally? There are going to be misses, sadly Giroud’s miss is the one we’ll hear about for a while.
Some people are going to say that RvP would have scored a couple today, but to be fair one might have been a stretch for RvP. The run that Giroud made to get open was a circuitous route that RvP would not have got away with. Players watch for RvP as much as fans do, so he would never have garnered that much space. Besides, Giroud missed today, he won’t keep missing. If you need a reassurance of why we want Giroud in the lineup, watch the Cologne match.
So what are the takeaways from a match like this? Arsenal have some quality to be sure, but with an injury to the current squad we are going to be in a world of hurt. You’ll see below when I review the players that crossing is a big issue. If we cannot cross well then Giroud is not going to find the back of the net as many times as we are all hoping. It’s time to keep our chins up as more bodies are on their way in.
MOTM – Santi Cazorla. It’s an easy choice isn’t it? He took close chances; he threatened the goal a lot. And THAT pass to Giroud, WOW, worth the price of admission right there! Seeing him take corners means I need him in my fantasy team, because he will get assist from the flag.
Runner-up – Thomas Vermaelen, while he did not score he handled his captaincy debut very well. The squad was disciplined and responded to his shouts and appeals for hustle. It is what you want to see, and what we need at this time.
Lukas Podolski showed signs of what we were expecting from the moment he was signed; grit, determination and an eye for goal. His free kick was pretty well taken, just lacked the dip. Maybe that was due to the new Nike ball, the Maxim? Am I being too generous?
Theo Walcott was not his sharpest today. Against Gardner and Richardson you would feel that he was salivating, chomping at the bit. His crossing lacked conviction and his dribbling lacked the grace needed to calmly cut between defenders. His match fitness is the culprit for that one, but Wenger would not have inserted him unless he could compete at his top.
Gervinho moved well, cut behind players here, and controlled the ball there. The parts that impressed me the most were the times where he moved the ball up from behind the strikers. Most important, Gervinho continued his efforts to come back and help win the ball. As Cazorla played forward and often could not get back on the ball (Sunderland played a lot out wide), Gervinho got back on the ball and if he didn’t win it back he slowed Sunderland down so that others could get back, top stuff.
Mike Arteta played well, but because he was so deep all the time I think he lacked the opportunities and ability to get fully integrated with Cazorla. I would have preferred to see Diaby play a little deeper and allow Arteta to work a 1-2 with Cazorla a little more. Arteta’s quick feet were under utilized. He did move the ball quite well for me, if only he had time to shoot from distance.
Abou Diaby can list me as a detractor; I have not been able to want to give the lad a chance, especially considering the others in the squad. Today is a different story, injuries and dissent (Song) have opened a window for him and in my opinion Diaby has taken it. He was unlucky not to get 90, but it is readily apparent that Arteta and Cazorla will get 90 unless they are physically unable to compete. Maybe that will be something else for Diaby to strive to achieve. He did not get full purchase for his shot on net, but he did the right things by using defenders as screens and shooting across his body.
Kieran Gibbs was quiet, which is not a bad thing. Normally when you talk about Gibbs it is to review a youthful error he has made that resulted in a goal. Today he tracked back and made some fantastic sliding tackles to force the ball in to touch. His crossing was very substandard for me, but his link play was great and helped the team move forward. If he can find a little polish for his end ball then the results could be fantastic.
Per Mertesacker was a quiet soldier today and Arsenal fans should be happy. He won headers, he won tackles, and didn’t have any bonehead blunders. Some people may not be ready to give him the time, but today he was efficient. He was not effective, if he’d been effective his passing would have been better and helped to spring midfielders on runs. Per played his passes to players and not ahead of players so his passing was efficient but not effective or aggressive.
Carl Jenkinson is still rough. It is hard to say if he was panicked and nervous or whether he just isn’t ready to be thrown into the mix. His crossing was really poor, luckily his tackling was very good. We should be cautious before saying he was defensively strong as his positioning sometimes had him caught out, which is why his good tackling saved his bacon. His communication with Mertesacker is not strong; while Sagna has language issues with Mertesacker their footballing instincts would make up for the issue.
Wojciech Szczesny was fairly strong, one poor decision had me murmuring, “The highway man goes wandering.” He made good saves and when asked (rarely) distributed the ball accurately. He did not get tested as much as Lee Cattermole would have you believe in the post-match interview, so let’s wait before we say anything about him improving his ball distribution abilities.
Aaron Ramsey is a player who has a lot to prove this season. When Arsenal are fully healthy, Ramsey is going to be out of the line-up, in fact he will not even be the second sub listed on the match sheet. That said he moved better today than he did all of last season. It’s a good start and he made some very smart passes. One that sticks out was when he picked Gervinho from across the pitch, smart movement.
Olivier Giroud did not play half as well as he did versus Cologne. Good news is we know he can be better, bad news is that we hoped for improvement already worry that he might have peaked. His missed opportunity is a psychological block that he needs to be rid of. The smartest solution is to give him a start next week to fix it. Stoke will have a devil of a time trying to stop him. Giroud’s movement on the break is also a concern for me. Sunderland out hustled him to two balls that I thought he should have controlled better. One match done, lots more for him to come good.
Andrey Arshavin showed us that he cares enough to play and run. He also showed us that he still knows how to make a cynical foul (when he took down Saha). Good news, no offsides; bad news, he didn’t move the ball inside to the striker when the lane presented itself. I was surprised that with Walcott withdrawn that Santos was not coming on, or maybe I was just being hopeful.