Match Review - Sunderland 0 Arsenal 2 (Alexis 2) - Premier League
An Arsenal team short of belief took all three points at the Stadium of light yesterday afternoon. After having endured what must have been an emotionally draining night in Belgium on Wednesday night, the lack of style to go with the points wasn't so important this time.
Arsenal were on a hiding to nothing after Sunderland's embarrassing 8-0 defeat at the hands of Southampton. Nobody had expected the home team to beat Arsenal, in fact all that seemed to be required from the black cats was commitment and an improvement in defence.
Understandably, this made for a rather negative approach from the home side. Defending the centre of the pitch very deep in numbers. Breaking down a team with everyone behind the ball is a difficult task in itself, it is even more difficult when you lack a bit of confidence in your game.
What seemed obvious from the start was the shift up in our defensive intensity all over the pitch. It's been a bit half hearted in the last two matches so it was great to see some improvement in that area. The increased stability in the team allowed the man of the moment to steal the show.
Arsène Wenger threw us all a curveball. Not only did he revert back to 4-2-3-1 but instead of using Santi Cazorla behind Danny Welbeck he gave that role to our big summer signing. Alexis Sanchez had played a large part of his career at Udinese behind Antonio Di Natale and he proved to be a star in that role. Alexis had started the season like a fireball without much direction. His passing was erratic and he wasn't on the same wavelength as the rest of his colleagues. Since then Alexis Sanchez has been the undisputed go to guy of this team. We have the Chilean to thank for bailing us out against Hull City, Anderlecht and now Sunderland. I don't think I can remember a player at Arsenal so forceful at stamping his personality on games.
Wes Brown wouldn't have mishit that back pass on 30 minutes had it not have been for Alexis constant closing down. Before that moment he would have had a perfect view of our number 17 charging around the field making tackles and making an utter nuisance of himself to the Sunderland players. Wes Brown knew what was coming and he knew that taking a touch, lifting his head and picking the pass he wanted was not an option with Alexis on the pitch. It was a horrible error but Alexis had plenty of work to do. The chance reminded me of an Udinese goal back in 2011 where he had to run a long distance before getting to goal, on that occasion he produced a couple of step overs before rounding the keeper and scoring. I was expecting the same but instead Alexis casually lifted the ball over Vito Mannone. He could have drilled it across the keeper, placed it past the keepers left or rounded him, I suspect he would have scored no matter what option he selected.
So why the shift in position and is this a full time change?
Those are the questions I'd love someone to put to Arsène during a press conference. Did Arsène go this way because Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere were not going to start the game? Was it a one off switch? or does Arsène want to put his most influential player in the middle of the pitch where he can see more of the ball and cause the opposition more damage? I don't have the answer but I hope it is the latter.
I was chatting on Twitter with @LittleDutchVA and @jcav90 the other day and we spoke about the return of Theo Walcott and where does he fit in with the current team?
Common belief is that we'd see a front three of Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez. As exciting as that seems, it just doesn't fit the usual Arsène Wenger template. The Lukas Podolski, Oliver Giroud and Theo Walcott trio was abandoned for lacking balance. The Gervinho, Walcott, van Persie front three was also canceled. On both occasions Arsène decided to go for a creative playmaker on the opposite side as a wide forward. Yossi Benayon and Santi Cazorla being those playmakers.
With three strikers in your front line you don't have as much of the ball, potentially lack creativity and perhaps could be weaker defensively as those players are all playing higher up the pitch.
With all this in mind I found myself scratching my head as to what happens when Theo Walcott is ready to start matches again. Well maybe Arsène is adjusting his team in preparation for his return.
With our German playmaker missing with a long term injury, a space has opened up for Walcott. Alexis can play as a high energy playmaker, running beyond Danny Welbeck or switching with Santi Cazorla on the left. Alexis isn't the typical dribbling wide forward, he is also very good at spotting and executing a through ball when required.
Look at this image from the game yesterday.
We are not even 3 minutes into the game and look at the team shape. Oxlade-Chamberlain resembles Theo Walcott a hell of a lot and not in a Andre Marriner sort of way. The difference between the two players is that Ox usually wants to run towards the ball where as Theo Walcott will often dart in between the left back and centre back. If it works and the balance is right then it is a very exciting prospect indeed. Santi Cazorla could be Mesut Özil when the German returns, that is assuming the system is successful until then. But maybe I am running ahead of myself.
At the Stadium of light Arsenal finally ended the contest in stoppage time after wasting some great chances. It's not the first game that Santi Cazorla has had problems keeping down balls cut back to him. But Alexis once again punished poor defending when a poor back pass from close range put the former Arsenal keeper under pressure before he panicked into poking the ball straight to our forward who finished from close range.
Two more goals for Alexis and three very important points for Arsenal. Is this new Arsenal team going in yet another direction? Whichever way it does go, let us hope our league position goes upwards.
For further reading, check out the latest Q&A (Sunderland (a) "I'd take Alexis straight to bed, after already ordering buckets of fried chicken" - Q&A)
'till the next time