Today’s game against Sunderland did not promise to be an advert for the beautiful game. Our hosts had been beaten savagely by the Saints only a week ago and were never going to play free-flowing attacking football in front of their own crowd. And we also had to find some belief again that we can defend our goal in order to try and win only our third game in this PL campaign. The inclusion of both Arteta and Flamini in the starting line-up surprised many of us, me included. But, in hindsight, it made some sense as Wenger just did not want to give the home team any encouragement that goals could be scored against Arsenal today: a clean sheet was the first priority.
So, with Sunderland eager to avoid another trashing and preferring to play us on the counter, and we playing the veterans of Flamini and Arteta, and almost veteran, Santi in midfield, the football on display was anything but sumptuous. As far as I could tell from a limited but luckily constant stream, we were once again struggling with attacking our opponent effectively. There is a Babel-esque nature to our attacking play at the moment; such is the lack of communication and understanding between the likes of Alexis, Sanchez, Ox and Santi.
Santi is no Ozil or Wilshere, and anybody still wanting to play him in his supposedly ‘natural/best position (nr.10)’, should re-watch this game if still in doubt. With Flamini and Arteta holding themselves back to a large extent, as per their remit and skill set, the onus was on Santi to link midfield with the three attackers. He struggled in composing our game and for large periods we did not attack effectively at all; which, in my view, is worse than the number of decent chances he missed during the latter part of the game.
To be totally fair, he was not helped much by the somewhat forlorn and ineffective looking Welbeck and by an overeager, but out of form, Ox. In fact, Sunderland were starting to get some confidence and were putting us under a bit of pressure after the first twenty minutes or so (a regular occurrence in Arsenal games this season). And had it not been for Wes Brown’s generous and belated birthday present for Arsene, I am not sure whether we would have scored at all in the first half and large parts of the second half, such was our bluntness and attacking mayhem upfront.
Luckily, we have a player of the highest quality and intrinsic motivation in our midst: the mini-Hulk from Chile, Alexis Sanchez. He is so effective at hunting down players and chasing the ball, and just never gives up. And for this he was handsomely rewarded with two priceless PL goals and three points for his club. Of course, Brown and our until recently very own Mannone made big mistakes themselves, rather than Alexis totally forcing them, but his chasing is so effective that sooner or later a player is going to make one. And let’s hope the likes of Ox, Jack, Welbeck are taking note of how it should be done from the master.
So three factors decided the game today: Sanchez successfully chasing of his opponents into mistakes (although the other players helped with this as well of course), his deadly finishing (most crucially for the first goal), AND the collective team effort to play for, and fight for, the clean sheet.
It was not pretty but this was a very, very necessary win. And now, with a week’s rest till the next game, the team can regroup and hopefully a few more players will become match fit to take on Burnley on Saturday.
Well done boys!
Written by: TotalArsenal.