This review has come a bit later than usual, mainly due to my dismay after Arsenal’s stale performance. We didn’t lose on Saturday, but after the flurry of chances in the final 30 minutes, most Gooners went home quite frustrated. When Arsenal beat Wolves 2-0, or Wigan 3-0, and the players showed their profligacy in front of goal, it was rather annoying. But we got the three points in those games, and that’s all that mattered and all that people remember. Last weekend, I’m sure many fans embarked the train at Arsenal station thinking that Wenger’s men had just lost two points in the title race.
I wanted to wait for the Liverpool v Man Utd match to decide whether this weekend was a success or a failure. Of course, Arshavin‘s ‘offside’ goal is a talking point, but was one point against Sunderland really that bad?
- Sunderland lie 8th in the table – not bad for a team that lost all it’s league games in February
- Arsenal were missing Song, Fabregas, RVP, Walcott and Vermaelen through injury. To ‘miss out’ on a win against a strong Premiership side WITHOUT our best players isn’t a major cause for concern.
- We produced a strong performance: 14 shots to Sunderland’s 6 and 63% possession.
Arsenal have to look at this weekend as a point gained on Man Utd. The Red Devils were very poor against Liverpool, and lost 3-1 as Suarez produced a breathtaking performance for Dalglish’s side. Arsenal are now only three points behind Man Utd with a game in hand. The goal difference between the top two sides, which was vast at the end of 2010, is now at 3 goals. An interesting statistic to note is that Arsenal have only conceded 27 goals, compared to the Manchester club’s ‘rock solid’ defence, led by Vidic and Ferdinand, which has conceded 30 goals. And we managed this without Vermaelen. Pretty impressive.
This draw was not a point lost like against Newcastle. Arsenal never collapsed and the Black Cats only threatened three times – once from Gyan, once from a corner and also after some sumptuous skill by Man Utd loanee, Wellbeck. The first-half opportunity for Sunderland came on the break, one of Arsenal’s weaknesses. Clichy backed off Gyan as he ran towards the box. The Ghanaian skipped round our left back and rifled a shot into the far corner. Szczesny did well to make the save, and received a loud round of applause. Hopefully he is regaining confidence after the cup final. On that note, Koscielny was the subject of sarcastic clapping after he made his first successful passback to the keeper. Our French centre-back was scrutinised by Gooners throughout the game, but he had a very good game, bar one passback which was intercepted. Other than that, he looked composed and very aware of Sunderland’s strength – speed. Although Malbranque, Gyan and Richardson looked dangerous, our defence coped very comfortably.
Sunderland’s other two chances came towards the end of the game. The Wellbeck shot was brilliantly saved by Szczesny, as the striker took the ball with his back to goal and swivelled to strike the ball with ferocious power. With minutes to go, Sunderland had a great chance from a corner, but it was blocked and the resulting shot was hit high into the stands.
On the other hand, Arsenal had plenty of opportunities to kill off the game. The Gunners started slowly, but a fabulous cross by Clichy presented Bendtner with the best chance of the first half. The Dane failed to connect with the low cross, when any contact would have caused a lot of trouble for Mignolet. Nicklas then had a shot saved when Wilshere lifted the ball over the defence. Nasri also had a few shots in the first 45 minutes, but failed to get enough power behind the ball. In the second half, Arsenal upped the tempo, but Sunderland continued to defend pretty well. However, in a great 20 minute spell, Arsenal applied the pressure. Nasri curled a free kick over the wall, but it was saved. Chamakh smashed a header onto the crossbar when Wilshere gifted him with a chance. But the game came down to three incidents involving Arshavin. The first came after Chamakh received the ball on the right wing, and Bramble went missing. He squared the ball to Andrey, who had plenty of time to control and shoot. Unfortunately, the Russian took it first time and his lazy shot had little power or placement, allowing Mignolet to make the save. The second arrived when Nasri released Arshavin with a fabulous pass. Our pacey forward was pulled back by Bramble as he took the shot, and the defender was good enough to admit that Andrey may have been “too honest.” Finally, Arshavin got his goal. He received a through ball in an onside position, because one of the Sunderland defenders was standing behind his three teammates. Arshavin rounded the keeper and tapped the ball in, but it was flagged offside. Replays show that this was incorrect. It’s times like these that remind us all why video replays would be so helpful. But wrong decisions are just a part of the game, they can go for or against any team. It does seem that we are too often on the wrong side of such decisions, but there is little proof for this.
I need to mention the dire performances of Diaby and Denilson. Both were substituted to rapturous applause, but not due to their input in the match. Denilson CANNOT play in the defensive midfield role, he is too slow and is a poor tackler. Diaby has no idea what to do when he gets into the box, and his passing can be very lazy. Neither of these players has improved on their aforementioned weak points, despite playing plenty of football over the last few years. It is such a shame, because Denilson has got great passing accuracy and technique, at times. And Diaby can produced scintillating runs and he has great control of the ball in tight situations. Unfortunately, they are inconsistent and don’t always provide enough to help the team do the main aim in football – to score. Too often, both players are content to keep the ball, but they aren’t creative enough.
Anyway, in answer to the question that I posed in the title, I believe that this was a point gained, given Utd’s loss. We must move on and concentrate on the next two games, which are of great importance. Even if we lose both games, we cannot afford more injuries nor poor performances. Both of these things could impact on our Premiership form. As Wenger says, the league is our priority.