I really feel like keeping this blog to one line reading:
“For an analysis of last night’s game, see the Swansea game, only Sunderland didn’t have the killer touch that the team from Wales had”
It felt exactly the same, almost, didn’t it? I mean, you had a team who essentially decided that the perfect blueprint for a minimum point at the Emirates was to sit camped on the edge of their own box and throw as many bodies in front of the ball as possible. The result was a pretty boring game of attack versus defence in which we once again huffed and puffed with little to show from our efforts at the end.
We’ve now gone three games without a win and put in three pretty lacklustre performances, although one thing I will say about yesterday evening’s display is that at least we worked the Sunderland ‘keeper a bit more than we did Fabianski a week and a half ago. A bit like when we played United at home and made DeGea look superb by firing balls down his throat all night, Fabianski was also gifted a a relatively easy time, but yesterday Pantilimon put in quite a good display in between the sticks, knocking balls around the post and getting down to his side well on a few occasions from Giroud, Walcott and Alexis.
Sunderland also had the fortune of the post too, as Billy Jones could have scored an own goal, instead the ball rebounded off the cross-section between post and crossbar. At the time I thought it would only be fair given that Sunderland had come for a point and not really bothered to do anything other than defend.
I sound a little bit bitter about Sunderland’s defensive display, but in truth I can’t really complain as an Arsenal fan, because teams like Sunderland have always come to the Emirates and sat ten bodies behind the ball with one up top hoping to poach an odd goal. We have seen it this season and season’s past. My worry is that team manager’s will have seen those recent couple of home displays and will be thinking that there is clearly a blueprint for playing Arsenal and it’s the blueprint that has existed for many years. We thought that this team was kicking on to the next level, but in order to do that, you need to put games like this to bed against teams that really shouldn’t be sharing the spoils with you.
I worry that Timmy Sherwood watched that game last night with a smile and said to himself: “bit of pace on the counter and better finishers and we can play this style of football and catch Arsenal out”. If there’s a blueprint to frustrate Arsenal and pick us off – which Sunderland did on a couple of occasions with Defoe and Fletcher, you can bet Tim will look to emulate that. We can hope that Aston Villa try to play a more open and expansive style of football, but the reality is that why would you against Arsenal? When you know you can beat them by closing down hard and putting up a strong defensive unit whilst hitting on the break, you’re going to do it and I think that’s exactly what he’s going to do in just over a week’s time. I would.
Perhaps I’m being a bit over the top. Perhaps yesterday’s game was just one in which we knew only a point is really all we need, that’s what Sunderland needed, so we’re pretty much over the line. Only defeat to West Brom and a seven goal swing for Manchester United will see us drop down to fourth spot, so perhaps there was a bit of a motivational block in yesterday’s game? It didn’t feel like it though, did it? It didn’t feel like the players were taking it easy, which in a way almost worries me more, because if that was the case at least we could say “well, the game was almost a dead rubber, so what do we expect? They’ll raise it for the FA Cup final, when the game means something”. I really hope that’s the case, because if we play like we have done in the last few matches, I fear the likes of Benteke and Agbonlahor will be getting a few more counter-attacking successes than Fletcher and Defoe had.
I also thought we’d see some good performances from the players that were rotated back in to the team by Arsene. Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey in the middle, I thought did ok, but nothing really too impressive. It must be hard to stake a case for some of them for the FA Cup final. When Theo campaign on I thought he did well and made an impact, getting behind the Sunderland back 10, but his time on the pitch was limited to 20 minutes so he was always going to struggle to get straight in to the swing of the game and make a massive impact. But I thought he did give us a different dimension, he did give Sunderland something to worry about and he did play as a more orthodox wide man, which pulled them apart a little bit. Before that Arsene had gone for Wilshere out wide, rotating often with Ramsey and Ozil and again, much like when Ramsey plays wide right, we became far too central and tried too many intricate balls through a congested area around the Sunderland ‘D’. Playing a central player out wide right doesn’t work Arsene. Give Theo a go on Sunday and see if we have a more natural balance. If we do, you have your answer of what to do for the cup final.
Should we be worried about the result yesterday? Of course not. Should we be a little more concerned about the performance, given what looms on the horizon in terms of silverware? Perhaps. But that’s what Le Boss has to work out how to fix and make sure we’re ready for Wembley.