Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0: A Pretty Familiar Feeling
The buildup to this game was pretty frantic. Echoes of life after van Persie seemed to be the order of the day as the world held its breath in anticipation of the new look Arsenal take on a dogged Sunderland side.
As expected, Martin O’ Neill lined up five across the midfield to choke Arsenal in the middle of the park. Arsene Wenger featured a familiar side with replacements drafted in several positions.
Carl Jenkinson got the nod ahead of Nico Yennaris and there were season starting berths for Abou Diaby as well as new boys, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski.
Sunderland had not defeated the Gunners in their home turf since the days Idi Amin ruled Uganda and with the squad lined up, that trend wasn’t going to change.
Sunderland drew first blood when James McClean was on the clear after the Arsenal defense went asleep. Wojciech Szczesny was on hand to make a fine stop. Santi Cazorla found himself on the edge of the area and he showed off his ambidextrity with a drilled left foot shot that was saved by Simon Mignolet in goal.
Gervinho went on a slalom run on the left that saw him evade many defenders before cutting the ball back but Cazorla got in Podolski’s way to fire his shot wide. Some intricate passing in midfield saw a chance open up for Diaby but his low drive was saved by Mignolet.
Despite Arsenal’s probing, Sunderland kept the hosts at bay as halftime beckoned with the scoreline intact.
Arsenal began the second half on a brighter note but Gervinho’s trademark decision making deficiencies played the better of him yet again.
Theo Walcott was a peripheral figure all game long but he did well to make a jinking run that saw him impeded by Kieran Richardson. Podolski blasted the resulting free kick over the bar. Gervinho drifted to the right and ran the length of the box before fashioning a chance for Cazorla but his half volley went wide.
Arsene Wenger played his cards by bringing on reinforcements to change the outcome of the game. Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin came on for Podolski, Diaby and Walcott.
Ramsey also began like a house on fire with a tame shot with basically his first touch. A move that disgusted Giroud as he was in a better position to score.
The game eased off and Sunderland got the upper hand in terms of defending and pressing Arsenal. However, the chance of the game arrived when Cazorla tore the Sunderland defense to create a perfect chance for Giroud but the forward blasted his effort wide off the mark.
That was Giroud’s chance to make a statement but he offered the media Vultures another chance to ring the Robin van Persie bells again. This tweet by FourFourTom offers a food for thought,
“@FourFourTom: Instead of focusing on the one missed chance, look at Giroud’s movement to create the chance”
Chris Foy’s final whistle coincided with annoying yet understandable boos from the Emirates faithful.
Szczesny (6.5) was tested early on but he was relatively untroubled as the game progressed.
Vermaelen (7.0) was more mature with his forays forward and he also put up a good defensive performance in his first game at Arsenal’s captain.
Mertesacker (7.0) was a bit sloppy with his passing but he was steady in defense.
Jenkinson (7.5) made many perfectly timed tackles but his crossing was a bit erratic.
Gibbs (7.0) balanced his attacking and defensive play well.
Diaby (6.5) had a few good touches in the course of the game but there were moments when he dwelt on the ball when a pass was a better option.
Arteta (7.0) was industrious in midfield.
Cazorla (8.0) put up an imperious performance. He was ubiquitous in midfield, fired in a few shots and almost handed a match-winning assist to Giroud.
Walcott (6.0) was a peripheral figure on the pitch and he didn’t hit the ground running.
Gervinho (7.5) was very direct with his running but he really needs to work on his decision making.
Podolski (6.0) was isolated in attack and he’ll want to forget this game quickly.
Ramsey (6.5) didn’t put a foot wrong in his cameo appearance.
Arshavin (6.0) was a bit lackadaisical and his distribution was a bit atrocious.
Giroud (6.0) marked his debut with a miss that would give him nightmares.
It’s too early to start throwing stones on the players but they’ll have to do better in their next outing against Stoke.
Oh well, this was a pretty familiar feeling.
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