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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Lucky Arsenal? We must be a threat all of a sudden - Sunderland 1 - 3 Arsenal

Stars of the show

My God Arsenal were lucky yesterday, weren't they? It's not as though they deserved to be four or five goals ahead before half-time. You'll guess from my sarcasm that I am very much enjoying the crying that's going on in the media in the aftermath of the win at Sunderland. It's been a long time since we've been on the right end of a bad refereeing decision but you'd think we were getting everything our way to listen to all that's being said at the moment. The most enjoyable thing about it is that it means one or two are worried about Arsenal this season. For the last few years we've been very much the cute little puppy dog that gets a pat on the head, and an "aww isn't he lovely" with our passing game and lack of teeth when the going gets tough. The surest sign that we were miles away from the top was that Alex Ferguson wasn't spitting out his usual bile in our direction in recent seasons. After the opening day defeat (largely due to awful refereeing against us, lest we forget) I think most of us were convinced we were in for more of the same. The players have been outstanding since then with a magnificent run of 5 straight wins. The signing of Ozil has also moved the goal posts. Arsenal are suddenly quite close to being a dangerous dog again in the Premier League. If Vermaelen can find his true form and be added to Wilshere and Flamini's bite in the midfield we could head back towards being the snarling, vicious force of yesteryear. I'll stop the canine metaphors there as I realise they're utter nonsense, but I hope you take the point. If the press are getting at us then it surely means that Arsenal are doing something right on the pitch. Long may it continue.
The game itself yesterday saw a sublime first-half from Arsenal's players. The match would have been out of sight for the hosts had Theo Walcott not been uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal. I've always said that finishing was very much Theo's strong point, but he's missed more than his share already this season, even before yesterday. With Ozil pulling the strings as he did yesterday Theo could use his pace to fill his boots as the season progresses, but he'll need to reset the radar. Marseilles would be a good place to break his duck this week.
Arsenal's first goal yesterday was breath taking in its execution. Ozil saw the space behind Sunderland's right-back and Kieran Gibbs delivered a ball over the top. It was the first touch from the German that was the highlight for me. Only the top players can control a ball over the shoulder, on the run, and in to their path to allow a first time pass of perfect weight like that. Most English players can only dream of such a touch. Some things can't be taught, of course, and that sort of talent is God given. It sums up Alan Shearer that he glossed over it on Match of the Day last night (as well as his other punditry being fourth or fifth rate). I can not begin to do that piece of control any justice in print. If you haven't seen it then you have to get yourself a chance to see it on TV or online. If it's a taste of things to come then we are in for some very sweet treats at Arsenal this season. Incidentally, Charlie Wyett (in today's Sun) has described Sunderland as "commendable but na├»ve" for not giving Ozil the physical treatment. Is it any wonder that English players can't produce moments of utter class like that?
Ozil didn't stop there. After creating that goal for Giroud (who took it superbly and was outstanding again) he laid on most of those chances for Theo Walcott. As I said above, we should have been out of sight by half-time. Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil were simply untouchable for an outclassed Sunderland midfield. Having failed to kill the game off it was no surprise to see a different contest after the break.
The introduction of the more energetic, and more physical (downright dirty) Craig Gardener gave Sunderland a huge jolt. They got the penalty after a silly challenge from King Koscielny. If he has a major weakness in his game it is that he dives in like that just a little too often. Yesterday Johnson was moving away from goal, and Gibbs was also getting round on the cover. Koscielny switches off at times, and is not aware of what's around him. It's almost Senderos-esque, if you like. Don't get me wrong, Koscielny gets things right far more often than he gets them badly wrong, but those errors tend to end up in an opposition goal nine times out of ten.
After the goal we were really under the cosh. We were fortunate that Steven Fletcher was even further behind the rest of the Arsenal defence than Carl Jenkinson was when seeing a goal chalked off for offside. The Corporal needs to concentrate more as he was fully five yards behind the other three, who had all held a good line. Maybe Jenkinson missed the communication of Per Mertesacker alongside him yesterday, but he's experienced enough now to know the need to be switched on, especially when he's looking straight along the line like that. There was also a free-kick that hit the post, but offside had already been correctly flagged for after Ki had tried to head the ball at goal from four yards out (Davey Provan on Sky should learn the offside rule) though quite why Szczesny wasn't stepping off his line to catch that ball I can only wonder.
Arsenal finally regained some composure and held on to the ball better. This led directly to a couple of minutes where we got on top again, and Ramsey converted Jenkinson's fine pass with a volley of incredible power. It was only when I watched it again on Sky last night that I realised just how hard he hit the ball. The goalkeeper was actually quite close to where the ball went, but such was the power generated from Ramsey's boot that he didn't stand a chance. It showcased an outstanding piece of technique from Ramsey.
Of course, a couple of minutes later came the turning point of the game. It really was a terrible piece of refereeing from Mr Atkinson, though it was unusual for him to give something in our favour. At 2-2 it would have been a different game (though I firmly believe Arsenal were well worth their result after that first-half display and three outstanding goals). Quite why he blew so early, and he had blown the whistle before Altidore broke free of Sagna, I really don't know. Again, why can he not be questioned about it after the game? Given that Altidore scored I would say that it must have been a clear goalscoring opportunity, so why was Sagna not red carded? I suppose you could argue that Sagna didn't deny Altidore the opportunity, but the referee did, so why should Sagna pay the price? Whichever way you look at it the referee was a joke.
When we did put the game beyond doubt it came from a brilliant team goal. Sustained passing and movement ended in a move between Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud and Ramsey again that saw the ball in the net. You will struggle to find a game all season where any team scores three goals of such high quality. Of course Ozil has grabbed the headlines this morning from an Arsenal perspective, and it was a truly impressive debut. However, it was Aaron Ramsey that really dominated the game. Aside from his two outstanding goals he was all action again. Arsene Wenger described his improvement in the past 12 months as "dramatic" and that is certainly true. It's actually astounding.
Just as a footnote to the game I will tell you that I watched in a local pub. This hostelry is the hangout of the local Tottenham supporters on a match day, and there were plenty of them in there, apparently watching their game against Norwich. It should come as no surprise that the biggest cheer in the pub all day came when Sunderland equalised against Arsenal. Their obsession with Arsenal not winning, rather than with their own side, is actually quite frightening. They were watching our game, instead of their own. Strange people, all of them.
Tomorrow's blog post will reflect my thoughts on Ramsey and the turn around in his game. For the moment I'm going to spend the rest of the day in the glow of a Premier League table that sees us in a very surprising first place. I still believe we're a player or three short of sustaining a genuine challenge, but I'm more than willing right now to enjoy where we are and be hopeful that there is more to come. Who'd have thought it after the Villa game?

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