Sunderland 1-4 Arsenal
Arsenal kicked off the weekend’s Premier League action with a comfortable 4-1 victory against the league’s bottom side, Sunderland, on Saturday afternoon.
The Gunners came into this game knowing that anything short of a victory would raise serious question marks about their title credentials, given their draw in the previous match against Middlesbrough.However David Moyes’ side didn’t put up much of a fight and were really there for the taking. Sunderland simply sat back for the entire game, failing to exert any pressure on the Gunners and affording them the time and space to get their heads up and pick out their passes with consummate ease.
As a result, Arsenal completely dominated possession, passing the ball amongst themselves for large periods of the game and almost toying with their opponents. Even when Sunderland did regain possession, their lone striker Jermain Defoe was so isolated upfront that the ball would invariably be returned to the Gunners possession for them to mount another attack.
It was no surprise therefore when Alexis Sanchez gave his side the lead early in the game, as he applied the finishing touch to a 22 pass move, which culminated with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain surging past the full back before delivering a wonderful cross into the box. Sanchez, who has been deployed up front since the start of the season, was the only Arsenal player inside the area, but showed the movement of a true centre forward to get across his defender as the ball approached, connecting perfectly to send his header into the far corner of the net, with the goalkeeper stranded.
From this point on the game should have been over as a contest as Arsenal should have exerted a killer instinct to finish off their opponents. However, there was instead a return to the complacency which has characterised the Gunners play in recent weeks. They were still dominating possession, but not really creating many genuine goal scoring opportunities. The clearest chance fell to Ozil who was put clean through on goal, but his attempt to chip the goalkeeper was not executed well enough, allowing Jordan Pickford to clutch the ball out of the air.
As a result of Arsenal’s failure to press home their superiority, at the half time break, Sunderland were still in the game with the score still at 1-0 to the Gunners. Such score lines are extremely vulnerable, as one mistake, deflection, or bad call from the referee can result in the lead being wiped out. Arsene Wenger’s side contains several experienced players who should have been vocal during the half time interval, urging their teammates to finish off the job in the second period.
However not much changed at the start of the second half and while Arsenal should have been awarded a penalty for a blatant pull back on Sanchez in the area, the Gunners were so dominant they should not have been relying on a decision from the referee to extend their lead. Only a few seconds after that poor decision from Martin Atkinson, Duncan Watmore took advantage of hesitancy from Mustafi as he attempted to deal with a long ball and raced through on goal, before Cech brought him down and Atkinson this time did point to the spot. Up stepped Defoe to restore parity and suddenly Arsenal found themselves in a very difficult situation, when they should have already been out of sight at that point.
Fortunately the Gunners didn’t panic and stuck to their game plan. Olivier Giroud came on from the bench and scored with each of his first two touches. The first was a wonderful finish as the Frenchman adjusted his body shape and steered the ball into the far corner, on the volley while falling to the ground too, from an excellent cross by Kieran Gibbs, which was slightly behind Giroud. The second was an excellent looped header from an Ozil corner delivery, which seemed to catch Pickford flatfooted as the goalkeeper just could not adjust his feet in time to push the ball out, despite getting a hand to the ball.
Arsenal were now finally home and dry but weren’t finished yet in terms of goal scoring as Sanchez made it three goals in the space of six scintillating minutes. Another Arsenal attack saw the ball switched to the left flank and although Gibbs’ effort came crashing back off the post, the ball fell to Ramsey, whose prod towards goal fell to Sanchez, with his back to goal but right in front of the goalkeeper. The Chilean showed great control and composure as he took one touch, turned and then clipped the ball home with his right foot, completely wrong footing the goalkeeper.
In the end this was a fine win against a very very poor side. The complacency displayed by the side once again will be a concern for the manager as against a better side, the Gunners would have been punished for their lack of urgency to get the job done. In boxing parlance, Arsenal must learn that when they have their opponents up against the ropes, they must be ruthless and look to finish them off there and then. That is what real champions do. In this league, you cannot afford to take your foot off the gas and allow your opponents the opportunity to get back into the contest. Arsenal must learn this lesson as quickly as possible as the Premier League title race is really hotting up with three teams all on the same points at the top of the table and several more within touching distance. Dropping points needlessly against sides they should be beating comfortably, will be extremely costly and therefore Wenger needs to address this problem as soon as possible as his side prepare for the mid-week Champions League fixture in Bulgaria before the blood and thunder of the North London derby.