I can tell you this right now – going for afternoon cakes in house of Sunderland supporters after your team has just put them to the sword by four goals to one – is definitely more preferable than doing it when the result is not in one’s favour.
Having spoken to The Management’s family about Sunderland, they know they’re most likely to go down at this rate, because what I saw yesterday was one of the poorest incarnations of that team there is. There may have been some brief moments in which they might have held on to hope for a draw yesterday at the Stadium of Light, but now that we can look back with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that Arsenal were always going to win that match. And quite handsomely.
That’s because this is one of the poorest Sunderland teams i’ve seen since I started coming up here, but also because it’s one of the most in-form Arsenal teams that have travelled to the North East. And we are certainly purring at the moment. You could see that in our retention of the ball, our interplay between the three component parts of the team (defence, midfield and attack) and the movement of the players across the pitch.
What’s also great to see is that Arsene can rotate the team and other players can come in and perform just as well as the regulars. Take Kieran Gibbs, for example, who I think had a great game. So much so, that Sunderland avoided trying to target him after it became clear that he had Khazri’s number after the initial skirmishes between the players. Gibbs is probably close to getting a first team regular call and if you’re Montreal, there’s no doubt you’re looking over your shoulder. In fact, here’s a conspiracy for you: I wonder if Monreal’s injured at all. Arsene has admitted to saying that he’s called players injured before when they’re not, so I wonder if Monreal’s injury is actually a smokescreen, because he’s not been as effective and Gibbs is at a stage in which he’s played himself back in to form. To be honest, I’d have no problem with that, because competition breeds success. I’d love to have that across every position. That’s the recipe for a title assault.
We were good defensively and the one mistake from Mustafi that led to the penalty to bring them level, was really the only piece of action that had me worried defensively, because we were so dominant for such large periods in the game. There’s no doubt it was a penalty, but the ease in which Martin Atkinson gave it compared to the stonewaller we had at the other end, only enraged me more. Atkinson must have gone for between 65-70% of decisions in favour of the home side. He ignored a blatant headlock from O’Shea on Alexis in the first half, and general found it quite easy to penalise us for nothing challenges, whilst ignoring some cynical fouls from the Sunderland players.
But by halftime we had been so dominant that the only real regret was that we hadn’t got more. Ozil’s chip, his tame side-foot finish when put in on goal, plus Le Coq’s run in behind that led to nothing, all had me worried that we were going to rue those first half missed chances. But I consoled myself in the fact that we were finding it so easy to get in behind the Sunderland back line.
One area that I wasn’t sure worked as well as it had previously, was with Iwobi, who I thought had a pretty poor game actually. His decision making is clearly that of a 20-year-old and I do wonder if it’s time to take him out of the side for a bit. He’s got so much talent and hopefully a long and illustrious career at Arsenal in front of him, but with The Ox again performing well in the absence of Theo, I just wonder if he might be preferred on that side when we play the Scummers next weekend.
There’s one thing for sure though, that Arsene will have some decisions to make on who plays, because we now have a multitude of in-form attacking players who can operate across the front three. Theo didn’t play yesterday, but we had two goals from Alexis, the Ox notched up a good assist from a cross (I know! who’da thunk that, eh?), we have Giroud who also bagged himself a brace too, so Arsene has some thinking to do ahead of the NLD next Sunday.
The goals Giroud scored were great too. The build up to his finish was decent, but his finish was not that of a man who had to find his way back in to the game. That’s delightful to see and his second goal was equally pleasing because it’s the sort of goal he’s in the squad to score. That looped ball over the ‘keeper from his perfectly manicured barnet, to seal the three points and make the ending of the game effectively a dead rubber. Thank you very much Ollie.
I thought the midfield two performed well also actually. Without Santi and Xhaka we all had slight worries about where the creativity is going to come from, but when you’ve got enough players like Ozil, Alexis, et al on the pitch, having a stable midfield that wins the ball, recycle possession and then distribute, is all you need. Elneny particularly had a good game, I thought, and whenever he has the ball I never worry that we might lose possession. Again, much like the forwards, Arsene has a decision to make as to who starts in the middle of the park against Ludogorets, because that is far from a forgone conclusion that Xhaka will come straight back in.
But this is what we want. We’ve wanted a competitive squad for so long and it feels like we’ve never really had it until now.
We’re hitting form at the right time, because we’re about to hit the dreaded November, so if we can at least have confidence up we’ll give ourselves the best possible chance of navigating through it.
Right, i’m offski for the day, so I’ll catch you tomorrow.