On the face of it a victory and 3 points gained on manu courtesy of a 3:1 defeat by Everton was just what the doctor ordered – so why was the atmosphere at the game subdued and the walk home to the station characterised by head shaking and hushed tones? The answer is simple; playing like that, we’re not going to win anything.
The team selection was positive, with Almunia back in goal and Ramsey featuring in midfield in place of Denilson. The inclusion of Eboué was greeted with enthusiasm by fans who a year ago would have groaned in disbelief – and he didn’t disappoint.
The pattern of the game was familiar. Sunderland had set their team up with negative intent. Same old boring tactic, pack the defence and try to get lucky on the break – and it almost worked when Kenwyne Jones got through one on one with Almunia and should have equalised but pulled his shot wide. Craig Gordon was timewasting when taking his goal kicks from the start but unsurprisingly managed to execute them much more quickly once they went a goal down. Darren Bent was wasted playing out wide and hardly featured in the game.
We had plenty of possession and created a few chances, but lacked the cutting edge up front. We really need a striker who can spearhead the attack, Chamakh will be most welcome. Players were receiving the ball out wide but crosses seldom found an Arsenal shirt often because there wasn’t one in the danger area.
The exception was Emmanuel Eboué who gave one of his best performances albeit peppered with the occasional sortie into am dram. He was quick, direct and threatening whenever he received the ball. The way he battled to squeeze the pass through to Bendtner for the first goal was typical of his performance throughout the match. The Dane should be very grateful for such an easy tap-in as his first touch had deserted him a few minutes earlier when in front of a virtually open goal and lost vital seconds only succeeding in finding a defender instead of the beckoning net.
The pattern of the second half was much the same as the first up until the all too familiar last 15 minutes when Sunderland actually showed some endeavour and gave us a few tense moments. At this point, I, like a lot of fans around me thought that 1:1 was the most likely outcome. Thankfully we could relax when late on Cesc ran towards the box and invited a rash challenge by Campbell. It looked like a soft penalty and may have even been outside the box, but we are overdue a touch of generosity from a referee!!! The resultant penalty was dispatched low into the bottom right corner by our captain. Three points secured.
I do not propose to give player ratings but would make the following observations:
Almunia – did OK but does not inspire confidence and once again was indecisive and hesitant when coming for the ball on occasion.
Clichy – had a much better game, kept it simple and concentrated on defending.
Sylvestre – coped for the most part with a poor Sunderland side, but give me Sol any day.
Nasri – he is a very clever and skillful player and provided a lot of the quality on show.
Eboué – my MotM, without his contribution I doubt we would have won.
Cesc – he worries me. He played well but seems to have lost some heart. He needs quality players around him otherwise his talent is wasted and may be lost back to his home country.
Bendtner – he worked hard but often drifted wide and left the middle unattended. He still lacks confidence in front of goal.
Arsène – good team selection, but it was ridiculous to bring on Denilson with a couple of minutes to go. He wasn’t up with the pace of the game and just added an extra nervy 30 seconds to the injury time.
Apologies for this hastily thrown together report, it was going to be written by another author but sadly events have made that impossible. There’s plenty to disagree with – it’s only my opinion. I’m delighted we won, but realistic that we need to improve on this performance if we want to be in contention for the title at the end of the season.