Today’s game highlighted the importance of “one game at a time”. Many Arsenal fans are already talking about the upcoming fixtures against Manchester United and Liverpool. They mention going into this games full of confidence with a gap on the two teams. They are assuming we will win the two games previous to this. We have won the first one today but my god was it close. Yes, we are still top of the league and have now won 10 games in a row in all competitions but it could have been so different.
Having raced into a two goal lead the players seem to take their foot of the pedal a bit and let Sunderland back into it. I would like to hope this was not arrogance on our part but it did seem the players maybe thought they had done enough. As a player Roy Keane never gave up and as a manager he has instilled the same attitude in his players. They got one back before half time rather fortuitously but then threatened a few times before getting the equaliser just after the re-start.
From then the game was on a knife edge and could have gone either way but Arsenal ground out another result and could have had more goals with a bit more luck.The game began in blistering fashion with Adebayor hitting a shot just over after just 25 seconds and this set the tone for the match. Fabregas was brought down just outside the box when threatening to shoot. Had the ref waited a few seconds he would have seen Diaby come onto the ball and rifle it into the net but the free kick had already been given.
The Arsenal fans complained about the lack of advantage but it did not matter. Van Persie jogged up and blasted the ball past Gordon and in off the bar. The shot had so much power that, even though very close to Gordon – the keeper had no chance whatsoever as the ball cannoned in off the bar. That goal was a perfect example of perfect technique and power but the second goal shortly after was very much the opposite. Adebayor collected the ball after it was cleared from the corner and knocked it back into the box. Diaby attempted a back heel that was never going to work and Senderos stuck out his left leg. He managed to divert the ball goal-bound and caught Gordon flat footed as the ball simply rolled agonisingly into the bottom corner.
When this goal came it seemed it could be a real hammering. This theory seemed correct when Diaby finished emphatically at the back post after a Hleb pull back only for the linesman to raise his flag. The decision had to be against Flamini who was running into the middle but this was a very close decision that could have gone either way.This decision changed the game. Minutes later Sunderland scored a goal very much against the run of play and it was an Arsenal mistake that let them in.
Clichy misjudged a ball over the top towards Jones. The striker took it down well and raced in on goal but his effort was well blocked by Almunia. However the ball fell kindly to Wallace who went passed one defender to slot into the net as Almunia attempted to recover his position. Arsenal seemed to put this behind them and Van Persie was denied by Gordon. His blistering 30-yard drive was tipped over brilliantly just before Senderos headed wide from the resulting corner when he should have done better. With the game balanced at 2-1 at half time there were two ways the game could have gone: Arsenal could go on to win comfortably or Sunderland would make it tricky. Unfortunately it was the second outcome that materialised. Kenwyne Jones equalised 3 minutes into the second half when Arsenal seemed half asleep. This is the arrogance I mentioned.
The Arsenal players did not seem like they came out for the second half ready for the fight that was to come. Eventually they settled and the game became very tense with both teams having chances; Arsenal far more than the visitors.Fabregas was closed down well but was also quite wasteful with possession and very unlike his current form. Flamini looked tired and Diaby did not look at the races after his two disallowed goals. Hleb was always threatening aswell as Robin Van Persie. He threatened once more and saw a deflected shot roll infuriatingly wide of the post.
Kolo Toure then ambled into the Sunderland half and from what seemed like 35 yards he rifled in a shot at goal. The ball rose all the way and had Gordon beaten all ends up but rattled the post and the rebound just evaded an incoming Adebayor and went to safety. This propelled Wenger into action as he replaced Diaby and Sagna with Walcott and Eboue respectively. This added pace to our game and Walcott in particular changed the game. Sunderland were stretched and chances started to come and a glorious chance fell to Fabregas but he chose to pass when s shot was by far the better option. Van Persie and Walcott screwed decent chances wide. They were both to redeem themselves minutes later though as they combined for Arsenal’s winner.With ten minutes left Eboue fed Walcott who skipped past his marker superbly before playing in Van Persie. His first touch was perfect and he finished off the flowing move.
Both of Van Persie’s goals were exemplars of perfect skill and technique with both power and finesse. Like against Steaua Van Persie was our match winner and showed why Wenger had faith in him to sell Thierry Henry. Wenger withdrew the match winner and he received a standing ovation. The most pleasing thing however was to see Walcott’s performance however short. There is no doubt he changed the game as he went passed players with ease and used his pace to great effect. The only thing left for Theo to do is get some consistency in his game and try and nail down a starting place.The game was not over by any means.
As Sunderland had shown before their attitude is spot on and respect to them for this. Most teams would crumble after going 2-0 down away at Arsenal after only 15 minutes. Many opposing players would drop their heads after Van Persie’s second but not Sunderland. They broke straight from the kick off and Almunia had to be alert to tip over a dipping effort from Miller. Almunia had taken two knocks to the head and admirably carried on to save us towards the end; his second knock coming from one very good and brave save. The game was end to end and Arsenal could put it to bed as Adebayor broke after a fine Walcott pass saw him attacking the defender one on one. He beat his man and rolled the ball just wide when looking for the far corner. Walcott then hit the post after what was yet another fluid move from Arsenal. A goal for Theo would have put the icing on the cake for what was a buzzing substitute’s appearance.Just before the final whistle Sunderland were down to ten men after what seemed a kick on Hleb and the ref did not hesitate to send McShane off right in front of his manager which led Arsenal fans to aim a chant towards Keane; “Just like your manager!” This was the first real time the home fans reminded Keane of his past antics on the pitch. As the final whistle arrived “We are top of the League” rang out around the Emirates as we went back to the top with a two point gap once again.
This game did show that every game is important and the matches against our rivals are still a long way off yet. We go into the small international break and hopefully won’t pick up any injuries. Changes may be made for the next game as there were some players who did not perform and others that deserve a chance. I would expect us to beat Bolton at home in two weeks but it will not be an easy game.
If we play to our best throughout the game however Bolton will not have enough to stop us.