If you came here today to see me bemoan the dropped points, you can turn right around because I won’t. I probably would have done that had we lost, but when your team attacks for 90 minutes out of 95, manages 28 shots and has 76% possession, well, that’s what I call an effort and far from an effort worth booing.
Were we profligate at times? Certainly Were Sunderland lucky at times? No doubt about it. Could we have won the game? Yes, and it would have been fair. Could we have lost it? Yes, so thank you, David Ospina.
I’ve heard numerous cries on Twitter at half-time and after the game how this match was similar to the one against Swansea. I couldn’t disagree more: Swansea were compact and organised, restricting us to very few shots on target, none of these coming in the first half & we were listless on the day. Yesterday there were gaps between the lines, space to exploit and Sunderland weren’t nearly as good at suffocating Arsenal players in possession. What is more, the Gunners really cared about the outcome from the first minute to the last. But its football, here not everything goes your way.
Let’s face it: the draw guarantees us 3rd place and direct qualification. I don’t care one bit our points tally will be lower than last year, I only care about our position in the table and marked improvement in games against the big sides.
As the game was a one-way street only, I’ll focus on some individual performances.
Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny & David Ospina
It’s been some time since I last saw such an accomplished performance from our central defenders. The Mertescielny axis performed brilliantly yesterday, something that was overlooked in the context of the result. It shouldn’t have been.
Both defenders played unusually high up the pitch and this was down to us camping in Sunderland’s final third for most of the game. My gut feeling was that Mertesacker won the air completely, while his French counterpart made a ton of interceptions. I’ve later looked up their stats and it turned out I wasn’t mistaken: Mertesacker won 5 out of 6 aerial duels, while also making 2 headed clearances; Koscielny made a whopping 7 interceptions. Just wow. Interestingly enough both only combined to a sole tackle, while Cazorla had 3 successful out of 4 attempted.
Also, kudos to David Ospina. Apart from sweeping up on at least two occasions the Colombian made two hugely important saves in the first 5 minutes of the second half and then parried Fletcher’s chip late on. Dave made a huge contribution and rightfully earned his 8th league clean sheet.
Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez
All looked dead on their feet, however only Mesut didn’t play the full game. The German was taken off with 10 minutes to go.
Santi played the entire game in the deep-lying role and he did grand: 3/4 tackles and a whopping 11 ball recoveries. On top of all that, the Little Magician completed 155 out of his 162 passes: a record for a player in a single PL game this season.
However, apart from maybe Mesut (who created 7 chances from open play), all need a rest as does Ramsey.
Thomas Rosicky & Theo Walcott
Both made an impact upon coming on and I think both should have been given more time. Theo created two goalscoring opportunities in less than half an hour, while Rosicky also had a chance to break the deadlock after a brilliant one-two with Theo.
Most importantly, Walcott gave width to out attacks and was just the man to exploit the spaces Sunderland’s defence left behind. His runs and his dribbling were really dangerous, so I struggle to come up with an explanation why Theo didn’t start the game. This is not a stab at Wilshere, Jack did alright on the wing and actually set up Ozil for the best chance of the game and almost scored himself from a Sanchez through ball. Still, Jack is not a winger and his natural tendency to drift inside left our right flank empty, while also creating an unnecessary overload in the middle of the park.
Rosicky, meanwhile, was that engine we lacked all game. Wilshere is not ready to be that engine yet, as he is still not at 100%, while Sanchez is knackered. Again, why Sanchez played the whole game or started altogether with a fully-fit Rozza on the bench is beyond me.
Oh, Ollie, why do you have to be so frustrating at times? You know we all love you, why do you break our hearts with such bleak performances? You know you’re our only realistic option at CF with Welbeck out, why did you abandon us in our time of need?
I think it’s no coincidence that our recent form is so unimpressive. While Giroud was firing we were winning. Last goal Ollie scored was against Liverpool, which was April 4th. Since then, Arsenal struggled, picking up only 9 points in 6 games, while we also needed extra-time to defeat Reading in the semi-final. Only 7 goals were scored in the process & Arsenal was held goalless in three consecutive home games.
So the focus shouldn’t be on whether Ospina could have kept Gomis’s or Herrera’s shot out, it should be on our finishing. And I mean “finishing”, we don’t have a problem creating chances: 51 attempts in the said home games and 15 chances created by Ozil alone suggest we have no problem in setting teammates up; we have problems tucking away the chances.
The main culprit? Unfortunately, Ollie Giroud. He is our main man, our centre-forward and the overwhelming majority of chances are created for him.
Before I heap further critique on the Handsome French Bloke, I want to put his performances into some context. After making a return from injury in late November against United, Giroud made 31 appearance in five-and-a-half months, only 5 from the bench. Take his three-match ban into account and Ollie should be one of the most used players in the period from December till May.
It showed yesterday. Ollie was a second late for every ball, his touch was heavy, his flicks didn’t come off and he only made 39 touches in 95 minutes on the pitch. Just 13 more than Ospina. Nonetheless, Giroud had two very presentable chances; one was saved by Pantilimon, the other he put just wide with the keeper stranded.
The Frenchman is obviously exhausted, though I can’t help but wonder how much damage Henry’s words after the game against Chelsea did. Giroud’s form started to dwindle down a bit earlier, probably after the Liverpool game. However, two bleak performances (Burnley and Chelsea) aren’t indicative of anything. The former was a game in which Giroud was doubly marked for the first time + Burnley were fighting for survival. Chelsea, meanwhile, was a game of fine margins, Ollie cannot be harshly judged for failing to score against the Blues.
Then Henry, feeling obliged to say something, said Giroud is not the one and here we are. Ollie relies on confidence so much he failed to score in 7 consecutive games.
Solution? I’d give Giroud a rest and play Welbeck if the Englishman is fit, both against West Brom and in the final. Or we can give Walcott a chance centrally?
However, it’ll be stupid to deny we have a wider issue. If Giroud is so sensitive, we need to have an alternative. Welbeck, Walcott or Sanchez if we are talking internal solutions and Jackson Martinez or Alexander Lacazette if we are talking external ones.
Maybe it would even be wise to consider Giroud second-choice and play someone less vulnerable to criticism as number 1 striker.
Another option is wingers who have goals in them and can save the day if Giroud is not in the mood. We have two such wingers at the Club: Sanchez and Walcott whilst Oxlade needs to work on his end product.
And of course we can consider bringing in such a winger. Sterling, Reus, Pedro are all possible options, with Reus my favourite. There are rumours flying around Pedro is being offered for as little as £7 million while Sterling is definitely unsettled. Considering Wenger’s comments on how he wants another 15-goal-a-season player, I don’t exclude external solution to our problem.
While a draw at home against relegation team is never pleasant (further exacerbated by the fact last time Arsenal player scored a goal was May 4th), it’s not the end of the world some paint it as. This point basically guarantees CL direct qualification, because I don’t see United overturning an 8-goal deficit. Frankly, I also don’t see us losing our last game. So keep calm. And support Arsenal.