Who’d have thunk it? A sumptuous, spring-like, cloudless, sunny electric blue afternoon greeted the Gooner Nation as it assembled for the visit of the Mackems from the Deep North.
Unfortunately, Andrey Arshavin’s encouraging first hour in the sacred colours, aside, the weather was the most pleasing aspect of the afternoon. A well-organised Sunderland unit and a lack of definition in the last third, a number of decent saves by Fulop in the Black Cats’ goal and a couple of fluffed shots from substitute Carlos Vela late on left us with only a point.
Speaking personally, I find Arsčne’s reported remarks to Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia after the final whistle disappointing. Why would any opponent choose tactics that suited us? We wouldn’t be happy if an Arsenal manager played into the hands of the opposition. Arsčne is an urbane, articulate and educated man. He’s also passionate and doesn’t like losing. Good. I don’t want a manager who can just shrug his shoulders and say “oh well” when we lose. I like to see just a little more public grace though. The fuming and kicking the cat should be kept private.
I thought Sunderland were compact and organised on Saturday. Richardson in particular took my eye. The bloke ran himself into the ground for the cause, showing good tactical awareness whilst he was doing it. In the first half the Wearsiders counter-attacked on a number of occasions to some effect. Fortunately for us, they too lacked definition and our defence was able to cope.
Andrey Arshavin, whilst clearly not yet match-fit, showed more than enough to encourage me that there’s more to come from him. As lack-lustre and lacking in passion as our performance was on Saturday, we have to learn the lessons and move on – quickly. We are now running into the sharp end of the season. There’s no time to recriminations, only planning for the Roma match tomorrow night. They’ll arrive in London today having picked up some form in Serie A. I think the first priority is not to concede any away goals. I honestly think we’re as well off going into the second leg in the Eternal City with a 0-0 draw than a 2-1 win.
That certainly worked for us last season when we produced one of the great Arsenal European away performances against Milan in the San Siro, a win that produced a standing ovation from the home crowd and a truly memorable night for those Gooners lucky enough to have been there. We’re certainly going to have to step up the intensity. Our concentration levels will need to be good too. Italian teams tend to be ruthless in punishing errors or lapses. We also need to do our part in really cranking up the volume. Talk to any player who’s played for a team visiting places like Galatasary’s Ali Sami Yen in Istanbul or Boca Juniors’ Bonbonera in Buenos Aires and they’ll tell you what an effect a totally unhinged, raucous home support can give the home team. I wouldn’t for one moment condone the coin or missile throwing at visiting fans that can go on in such places, but the atmosphere generated by the home support in such grounds can really lift the home team and discombobulate the visitors.
Just occasionally we managed to really lift ourselves from our normal torpor and get behind the team. Let’s make tomorrow night one of those occasions. Well played to REDaction for the display of St George flags on Saturday (and I say that as a Welshman). Let’s hope that action has consigned the ludicrous flag ban to the dustbin of mad, bad ideas where it belongs. Don’t forget to wear your scarf with pride tomorrow night.
Keep the faith!