Anyone that says Arsenal lack character need to see Arsenal’s match against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. It was a real war, the Gunners battled against butchers to say the least, the Black cats were reckless with their tackles. Also against the referee Mr. Anthony Taylor that was apparently determined to see Arsenal fail. He saw everything bad with the Gunners’ tackles while he saw everything good with those of the Sunderland players. If Arsenal finished the game a man short, the Black Cats should have finished the game with at least two men short. They threw reckless tackles at Walcott, Arteta and Wilshere. In fact Arsenal are lucky to have finished the game with no real injury casualty. I know there would be several of our players with knocks but they should be fine before we welcome Bayern Munich to the Emirates in the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League.
With Tottenham winning their clash against the Magpies at the White Hart Lane and Chelsea almost certain to beat Wigan at the Stamford Bridge ( and they did ), Wenger and his troops knew they could not afford any further slip up which could potentially open up a 7 and 8 points gap between them and Tottenham and Chelsea respectively. Hence, it was only a win at the Stadium of Light that could halt that.
Going into the match, Wenger was forced into using a makeshift back four. With injuries ruling out first and second choice center backs Vermaelen and Koscielny, Le Prof turned to right back Bacary Sagna to partner Mertesacker and Jenkinson came for him at right back. Ramsey shook off his calf complaint to take his place beside Arteta in Arsenal’s midfield triangle. Arsenal had plethora of chances but poor marksmanship, robust Black Cats defending and good goal keeping by Mignolet limited Arsenal to a single goal lead courtesy of Cazorla’s angled shot and it was the Spaniard’s goal that was good enough to see Arsenal bag maximum points.
Beyond the 3 points, so many other things excited me about the team and I would love to share them with you.
Sagna’s performance today at the heart of Arsenal’s defence was his best for Arsenal this season. When I learnt he would be pairing Mertesacker, my heart jumped to my mouth but his performance amazed me. He was rock solid on ground, dependable in the air and showed great discipline. He hacked away any and every potential danger. Mertesacker would have felt comfortable playing alongside him. Playing against Stephen Fletcher and Sessegnon and not conceding is no mean feat and the Frenchman contributed in no small measure to it. It is hard to believe that was the Frenchman’s maiden game as a center back for Arsenal in his 6 years at the club. In those years, he has played right back and left back but not center-back until today.
Another guy that amazed me today was Ramsey. He has been vilified for many wrong reasons but today he deserves as applause for many good reasons. He started the game in the defensive midfield slot as the second pivot to Arteta and did well albeit missing a sitter that could have possibly given Arsenal more breathing space in the 2nd half, but he was deployed to the right back position when Jenkinson was giving his marching orders. Sessegnon is one of the firecest wingers to come up against; he is fast, strong and skillful but against the Beninose, the welsh midfielder excelled and came up in flying colours. He forced out Rose with a hamstring injury while he stifled the impact of Sessegnon. Those heroic acts immensely contributed to us keeping a clean sheet and winning the game.
Szczesny also proved his mettle today. He showed discipline, focus and agility. He dealt with Sunderland’s crosses which became more dangerous after Sebastian Larsson came on. The Swede is one of the best dead ball specialists in the Premier League. Winning today’s game, Arsenal have the Pole to thank.
Wenger also got his tactics spot on today. He made just a substitution when he brought in Diaby for Wilshere. A lot of pundits would have preferred him subbing Ramsey for Rosicky or the Czech captain coming in for Wilshere instead of Diaby but that decision proved valuable when Jenkinson was sent off and Ramsey had to move to the right back position. If Rosicky had been brought in, could he have played right back or is it Arteta that would have moved there? With no right back, the Black Cats would have skinned us alive.
Diaby’s presence in the middle of the pack helped add height and physical presence to the team midriff. This helped the Gunners combat the long balls and defend set pieces. On the pitch today, Arsenal had just Giroud, Diaby and Mertesacker as the only tall players and they were key in defending set pieces. Giroud also worked his socks off, albeit he missed chances, he was ever ready to fight for the team and was a willing outlet for the Gunners counter attacking play.
All in all, it was a good game, one that epitomized our fighting spirit and revealed for once the huge potentials in the team that Wenger has been clamouring for long. It showed with character and determination, one can defeat a gang of butchers and a clearly biased umpire. When we finally secure top 4, these points would go down as one of the best we collected all season.
Thumbs up Gunners!
Written By Kolade Omotosho