Arsenal’s 15 minutes Of Pure Class

The 15 minutes leading up to Arsenal’s penalty kick was pure class. Arsenal were showing off their individual ability in playing keep-ball. Losing Alex Song just 10 minutes into the second half meant Arsenal were going to have to go through what Liverpool, Blackpool and Bolton had in the Gunners’ opening games of the season. Arsene Wenger’s team had struggled to get close to Sunderland in the opening 45 minutes and with the extra man a one goal lead was always shaky. But the new conditions of the game seemed to change Arsenal. Playing ten against eleven challenged them. It was a chance to prove their level of technique and skill.
If Wenger believes his team has matured, then the way they coped once Song had been dismissed was a promising sign of it. Sunderland were being dragged about. Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere were forming tri-angles and keeping the ball the way a team with an advantage would. It was also a testimony to Wenger’s eye for players gifted with technique. At one point, it was such a show of composure from Arsenal that I claimed it was the most I had enjoyed watching them in years. It was funny to see the home team chasing shadows. The way the man in possession used his body to twist one way then another, give and go, hold and change direction was of the highest standard. Only Arsenal could play in such a way while disadvantaged.
Sadly a game isn’t just about 15 minutes and in the end it was one cross too many that Arsenal had to deal with. Could they have played better in the first half? Could The Gunners have have shown more urgency to capitalise on their lead before the break?  Is this the main reason why Arsenal earned only one point despite everything else? Wenger preferred to question the referees watch when Darren Bent’s goal came after the allotted four minutes injury time. When Leyton Baines was through on goal last week after an Everton counter-attack, referee Martin Atkinson blew the final whistle, so Phil Dowd had no excuse yesterday if he was waiting for the passage of play to die before he ending things. The players on the pitch couldn’t have been aware of an extra 20 seconds though, and really, Arsenal were punished for not clearing their lines.
Atkinson was fourth official for this tie and he would have been getting an earful from Wenger when Song was sent off. Sam Allardyce hit out at the Arsenal manager during the week for using the media to influence officials into protecting his players. Wenger was quite balanced in his ideas on the physical aspects, although as usual he was made out to be some kind of extremist attempting to crush all that is good about football. Allardyce might want to look just as closely at the state of the FA’s line of representative on the pitch. A little body check from Song was enough to send him off. In the early kick off at Stoke, Lee Mason had his book out for a handful of tackles that were mistimed though never reckless, before Rory Delap was carded for a trivial one-handed shove. Song will feel aggrieved and rightly so. It brings around the question; who is that’s actually killing the pysical side to football? Is it Wenger as many might say? Based on yesterday, we might want to point the finger at referees before anybody else.
Still, Arsenal were seconds away from a decent victory. If the score had of ended 1-0 it’s almost certain people would have talked about how shrewdly they had played Sunderland. The same couldn’t be said about Tomas Rosicky’s penalty, which undone Arsenal’s smart and tidy play up until that point. The fact Sunderland were being out-played on their own turf brought around the penalty, an irritable clip of Nasri’s heals born out of pure frustration. The only surprise was not seeing Nasri place the ball down himself and so it turned out to be a defining moment. The television was instantly turned off when Bent netted. The sickness of it all was nothing new.
But are the 15 minutes of pure class leading up to the penalty, and a few similar patches of play afterwards, enough to say there is indeed something new about Arsenal? Countering all that though, might be the sloppy way Arsenal conceded, plus the lack of thought in letting Rosicky take responsibility from the spot. It’s difficult to set that aside, although through the murkiness of a result that screams ‘same old Arsenal’, there was a smouldering 15 minutes where Arsenal bossed. Playing with ten men simply took its toll by the end. I’ll even grit my teeth and say Arsenal were unlucky, because they did appear mature like Wenger boasts, there was some leadership. Not really through any voice in particular, but through football which spoke, and the way it spoke was like somebody who knew what they were talking about.

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