Written by Mean Lean on Sunday, 10 February 2013 03:15
I only managed to watch the first 45 minutes live due to family reasons but I caught the full second half late last night.
It wasn't a bad first half to choose to be fair, many of our first half displays have not been our best but I was pleased with the way we approached the game. I was fairly puzzled trying to work out who was playing and where. I had missed that Koscielny couldn't manage to come through the warm up game so I was scratching my head when I saw both Sagna and Jenkinson geeing themselves up before the kick off.
Eventually it kind of fell into place and Koscielny's absence became obvious. We started the game very sharply and it has seemed a while since we have seen that happen.
I was a little bemused as to why a fresh Abou Diaby didn't start in midfield but as it was the trio of Arteta, Ramsey and Wilshere looked bright, especially with Santi Cazorla drifting inside from the left. I like the balance of that and it gives us more options on the ball. I am almost resigned to forgetting about adding Rosicky to the mix, not entirely sure why but it seems clear that he is out of favour now.
Theo Walcott was proving to be a big threat once more from the right and if anyone looked like scoring it was he. You could see that our attacking players have really taken big steps forward in their understanding of one another by the little threaded reverse passes into each other. Perhaps the early season call for patience was not just empty words after all. There is an obvious and clear improvement in our attacking game.
I really like the three passers in the middle with Cazorla out on the left but what we miss is the efficiency of Lukas Podolski. You cannot ignore his wonderful goals and assists stats stuck on the bench. I thought we played very narrowly today and could have used our full backs better in attacking positions. It meant that we were a little one dimensional when it came to breaking down Sunderland. A few crosses from Jenkinson and Monreal could have given us other options but it didn't matter in the end because Santi Cazorla drove a left footed shot past the keeper to put us in a lead that we would grasp onto for the entire game.
Why the referee thought it was ok to allow the Sunderland players to hack us down without blowing for fouls is beyond me, it really is. But then to blow for practically everything we did was weird in the extreme. Almost as if the 'they don't like it up em' narrative is just accepted and the rules are altered against us.
Lee Cattermole was given the green light to do as he pleased, throwing arms into the back of Cazorla, diving into Aaron Ramsey and more in just 45 minutes. Nothing.
Oliver Giroud had a great chance in the left hand channel, similar to his chance at Chelsea but he dragged his effort narrowly wide of the far post. I was beginning to worry about all our missed opportunities. So many Arsenal sides of the past have been punished for not putting games away and I feared that it would be one of those days.
Apart from Giroud driving wide, Ramsey had a clear cut chance saved, Walcott could have scored a hat trick and also struck the post in the second half. Ramsey also had a long range strike well saved. Had we have had our shooting boots on then we really could have ran away with the game at half time.
Things were not helped when Carl Jenkinson picked up two yellow cards for rash challenges, in normal circumstances I wouldn't dream of complaining, they were late and mistimed but when the opposition are continuously allowed to play on after scything down our players, it confuses me somewhat.
So it was no surprise that Jack Wilshere picked up a knock after his give and go was halted by a Sunderland knee to the thigh. As long as the injury clears up before our next big game then maybe it was a blessing. Maybe had Jack stayed on the pitch, we might only have managed a draw, who knows.
When you are down to ten men and have one of your best players off through injury away from home you need two big performances from your center back and goalkeeper. Up step Bacary Sagna and Wojciech Szczesny. The latter making two big saves in the second half, one when he flew out to block Fletcher's shot and the second to claw away a goal mouth scramble. Sagna playing as a sort of half right back, half center back put his body on the line. Throwing himself into everything and clearing everything that came into the box.
We were under a lot of pressure but dealt with it very well and that is the most pleasing. Two hard fought victories in two weeks keeps the pressure on those above us, we will come across games not as difficult as this one so the three points are more than welcome.