Andrey Arshavin’s debut was better than anyone could have hoped for. He added purpose to our lack lustre attack, and had several attempts on or near the target. He was clearly off the pace a little in fitness terms, but what he can add to our attack is the sensible and most logical pass. He is not afraid to shoot, and his running was unselfish. Contrast that with the rest of our midfield performance and one can begin to see why UEFA Cup football is coming ever closer as the final result this season. He is certainly the real deal, and what a shame that his team mates failed to put in the endeavour that should have seen three points close the gap on the top four. He was easily man of the match on a day when the only other thing that shined was the sun.
into tackles, Song tried to close down players, but somehow the pairing failed to provide any thrust in the area that we needed to have pace and vision. The problem is very obvious. We are too slow and now uncertain about what to do with the ball in midfield. Arsenal teams of old have used one touch football to open up stubborn defences. What we saw at the Emirates was a painful, and at times often boring laborious display of negative football. Players now take two or even three touches before passing the ball sideways. Our attacks down the flanks either end with an aimless cross into the far post, or we retreat to the half way line, almost fearing the reality of having to enter our opponents penalty box. We failed to put pressure on our opponents and were content to watch them play football. All too often, we resorted to a long ball out of defence as we ran out of ideas.
Sunderland had no game plan other than to keep a clean sheet, and with fortune favouring Fulop their keeper. The normally assured van Persie failed to score from what seemed a routine chance for him. He had made a wonderfully timed run to find himself on his favoured left foot, twelve yards out, one on one with the keeper. The chance came after a sustained series of attempts by Arshavin and the Dutchman’s chip over the keeper which normally would have found the back of the net, drifted painfully wide. All over the field, performances were nearly there. Sagna had by his standards a poor game. He seems to have lost the art of crossing the ball. His delivery being often too high and without pace. Our defence was rarely troubled, but there were too many gaps in midfield. Again the fans were greeted by the opponents showing more rapid passing ability upon the rare occasions that Sunderland had the upper hand.
The second half didn’t bring any joy either, and what struck me was the lethargy that pervades this Arsenal team. The counter-attacks were almost pedestrian in terms of pace. Predictable in terms of delivery and impotent in the final third. The formation employed by Arsene Wenger seemed to have maintained the unbeaten run, but when we needed to score goals and take advantage of the loss at home by Aston Villa to Chelsea, we lacked that final desire to finish the job. We were also unlucky, as Toure’s header shoulder have crept in at the near post. Vela who came on for Arshavin made uncharacteristic errors and Gallas had the opportunity to win the game with almost the last kick of the game, but he lacked the composure that his extremely experienced mind should have given him.
Arsene Wenger was upbeat in his analysis of the game. He said that the team tried everything they could to win.
“The team gives everything and wants to do well, I think the attitude is very, very good in the final third. At the moment we aren’t as efficient as I believe we can be for different reasons. Sometimes because our game is not vertical enough and sometimes we aren’t relaxed enough in our finishing. Our passing sometimes isn’t incisive enough. That’s why the strikers aren’t alerted quickly enough.”
He was putting a positive spin on the fact that we now play a formation at home which used to be only used in away games. The five man midfield doesn’t work at the Emirates, and it is hard to see how in the absence of any real quality from Niklas Bendtner how we are going to score the goals needed to improve our goal difference. This is because even if we do make up the six point deficit on Aston Villa in the remaining games, there is the spectre that finishing upon the same number of points as our West Midland rivals will still result in failure because of our inferior goal difference. At least the fans had the news of the freezing of season ticket prices to take home with them.
So we move on unbeaten, and we have the opportunity to try for silverware against Roma in the Champions League and Burnley in the FA Cup. There is a mood which is developing at the Arsenal, a mood of resignation to our almost certain fate. The acceptance of fifth position in the premier league. If that happens, we will lose more than Champions League status. We will lose Fabregas and any hope of attracting high quality players to the Emirates. This may be the focus that is concentrating Wenger’s mind as the media suggest one way of keeping Fabregas would be to sign a quality midfielder like best friend David Silva at a cost of £20 million. We now need to win all of our remaining home games and take advantage in away games of the opponents below us who are scrambling in the tight relegation areas. This season is fast becoming one that we all want to forget. The team have never got out of first gear it seems. Yet whilst there are games remaining, we can still deliver something, and now it is down to Arsene Wenger to work his magic and restore what we know is lacking, our beautiful fast game.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy (Gibbs 85), Nasri, Denilson, Song Billong (Eboue 78), Arshavin (Vela 63), Bendtner, Van Persie.
Subs: Fabianski, Ramsey, Djourou, Merida.
MOTM: Andrey Arshavin.
Sunderland: Fulop, Ben-Haim, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Malbranque, Whitehead, Tainio (Leadbitter 76), Reid (Murphy 78), Richardson, Jones (Edwards 88).
Subs: Gordon, Davenport, Healy, McShane.
Ref: Alan Wiley
Fabregas the King.