Saturday, February 11, 2012

Substitutions and Karma: 14 Thoughts on Sunderland 1 Arsenal 2

At half-time in this game, I have to admit that I was struggling to think about what I would write in my post-match report. However, and thankfully, the game came alive in the second-half, and will probably live long in the memory of Arsenal fans for years to come. My thoughts as follows:

* As I said, it didn't look like it was shaping up to be a classic in the first-half. Both teams huffed and puffed but not a huge deal was created. If we were playing at home, I'd have been a little bit more confident, but away, at Sunderland, this had all the hall-marks of a 0-0. Indeed, as the second-half started in similarly soporific style, I predicted on Twitter that there would only be 1 goal in the game with around 30 minutes to go. How wrong I was.

* Sunderland's goal was a freak incident, really. Yes, they had tested Szcz with a few long-efforts, which he dealt with very well, and it should be noted that without those saves, which were by no means routine, that we wouldn't have won the game. But, for the goal itself, if Per doesn't go down injured then Sunderland don't score. I don't blame Sunderland for not stopping play, as they were under no obligation to do so, and it wasn't entirely clear until after the goal that Per's injury was serious. Still, if we had lost the game because of a goal like that, we would all have been fuming. If nothing else, it did seem to create a sense of injustice - perhaps even a karmic imbalance. Call me a superstitious charlatan, but I believe things like this matter in football.

* Because we've won the game, I can say this without sounding like a sore loser: Sunderland's pitch was a disgrace.  Mertesacker's injury would not have occurred had the pitch not resembled a cattle-field. It seems incredible to me that club's invest in multi-million pound players and that make them play on pitches such as these where injuries are almost an inevitability. It's difficult to know what to do about the matter, but some form of standard needs to be set. Not every pitch has to be up to the bowling-green standard of the Grove - just something which isn't a potential mine-field for players.

* Mertesacker's injury sounds serious. While we won't know the extent for a few days at least, ankle ligament damage isn't the kind of thing you run-off in a couple of weeks, typically. It marks a low-point for Per in what has been a difficult first season for him in England. Personally, I think he has been under-rated because people misunderstand his talents. Despite his height, Mertesacker's strengths lie in reading the game and making timely blocks and clearances. He has led the team in blocked-shots this year, and is second to Koscielny in clearances. He also has the second-highest pass-completion rate in the squad. Where he struggles, perhaps ironically, is in the air - he is behind KG, LK, AS and TV in terms of aerial duels won. However, I predict that we will miss him as a calming, organizing influence in the defence more than people think.

* That said, at least Gibbs appears to be back. With JD in reserve, and Santos hopefully back within a month, we may well see TV & LK line up as CBs together for quite a few weeks. Personally, I think they are slightly too similar to be a good partnership, but we'll see. In terms of the defence - a word on Sagna today, who was absolutely superb. He won 9/10 of his aerial duels, and made the joint highest number of accurate crosses (with Arshavin!). He's been so good for so long that we forget that he is almost the archetype of a superb, modern full-back: strong in defence and going forward.

* Alas, our wing-play was less than stellar. Before I get onto Walcott, we should recognise that the Ox had a poor game and deserved to be withdrawn. The Ox did lead the team in terms of dribbling and actually had a fairly decent pass completion rate (94%). However, he also only touched the ball 33 times - less than Ramsey, who came on after 72 minutes. He also had no key passes, no shots on target, and was obviously not involved in any of the goals. A lesson for us all about not getting over-excited about him too quickly.

* However, in comparison to Walcott, the Ox might as well have been Pele. After 3 assists and 3 key passes against Blackburn, Walcott reverted to the all-too-common drivel we've seen from him this year. Walcott had 8 turnovers today (a loss of possession due to a mistake/poor control). That is terrible - four times higher than any other player on the pitch. He leads the team in turnovers in the Premier League with 2.4 per average per game. It's one thing to do little with the ball - it's another to actively lose possession on a regular basis. 0 Shots on target, 0 key passes, and 0 impact, I would argue. If he cannot maintain consistency, then he will lose his place in the team, long-term. I actually think he is more likely to leave in the summer than Robin.

* When all seemed lost, we managed to turn around the game through subsitutes. After all the stick Wenger got for his manoeuvres vs. United, it's only right that he should be praised for his tactical adjustments today, which included moving to 4-4-2 for the last quarter of an hour or so. This made sense because, to use the technical term, Sunderland were knackered after playing 120 minutes on Wednesday. They were desperately hanging on at the end, Arsene recognised this and correctly went for it. A more cautious manager may have been content to pull it back to 1-1. Arsene wasn't, and he got it completely right after, what I would argue, was a freak goal that we were unlucky to concede.

 * I've made no attempt to hide my love for Aaron Ramsey, but even his most ardent critics should recognise that he was superb today during his 20 minute cameo. One of only 3 players to have a shot-on-target, his goal was the type of outside the box gamble that we don't see enough Arsenal players make. It wasn't quite a hit-and-hope - more the type of calculated risk that we've seen Lampard make to great effect over the years. A pass completion rate of 97% is none-too-shabby either. Rosicky, who again started ahead of Aaron, actually had a better game defensively rather than offensively, in many respects. With 5 tackles, he led the team, yet none of his four attempted through balls came off. His overall pass accuracy was also pretty poor - only 81% - and he was dispossessed 4 times, the highest number in the team. He did make one key pass, but I maintain that Tomas is a squad player at best.

*Henry came on and didn't really do much - apart from the score the winning goal. He had 0 dribbles, 0 key passes, and the lowest pass completion rate of any Arsenal player - just 67%. But he was in the right place at the right time and he won us the game. He is a natural goalscorer, and that one touch of the ball means we get the two extra points today. His goal was a moment of pure magic, something that all Arsenal fans will remember for a long-time to come. The King returned - and it was magnificent.

* However, the King must now leave us again after the Milan match, and we're left in a situation where Chamakh (1 premier league goal this season) and Park (6 minutes total playing time in the premier league this season) are our back-up strikers. Either Chamakh has to somehow rediscover his form, or Park needs to do, well, something, or Robin has to stay fit for the rest of the season. Whether he does or not will probably decide how our season finishes.

* Arshavin deserves a lot of credit for his short but blindingly effective cameo. Yes, he was up against a tired Sunderland defence, but in 8 minutes he grabbed an assist, made 2 key passes, and made more accurate crosses than any other player than Sagna. I really hope he can start to produce this magic, even if only as an impact sub, a few more times before the summer, because I maintain that he is a magnificent player, who simply never got used to the level of consistency required by a top-four premier league club.

* A quick word on Arteta, who was sensational today. He made 116 passes today, with an accuracy of 94%. That is Xavi-esque.

* To conclude: this was a great win in difficult circumstances. We pulled it out the bag with minutes remaining, and sent ourselves up to fourth place in the league. With Chelsea and Liverpool losing, it was imperative that we took advantage of their dropped points and we did. Thierry's goal will ensure that this game will be remembered for years to come, but, for now, part one of the great Sunderland-Milan away-day adventure is complete.


Ash said...

Top top post.. well done mate.

I really regret us not getting arteta atleast 2 seasons back. He and cesc would have made a wonderful partnership.

Lot of ppl think he was brought to replace cesc and suppose to provide us the 'Spark', Arteta is a different type of player. He is a majestic playmaker who keeps the team ticking and is also a beast of a central midfielder never hiding from a tackle, its a wonderful combination really.

Goonerboy said...

I totally agree re: Arteta. He just makes the team tick, and keeps us steady. Him and Cesc together would have been amazing, but I think Ramsey will grow into Cesc's role given time.

e17 gooner said...

Agree 100% with Goonerboy.
Arteta is the steady type of player Arsenal have needed.
Ramsey is quality, patience is required with him as it will be with Wilshere and Ox.
People need to realise that Wilshere will have the same problems that Aaron has faced coming back from such a long lay off. It takes time and Wilshere will have been out for a year. We are blessed with quality young talent that needs our support.

037 said...

Top post,mate!

I praise Sagna as highly as you, but perhaps not on the offensive end.
For defense, there is no one like Sagna on the right flank!
But offensively, he doesn't contribute much. He forces a lot of premature crosses in (much like Theo).

I think for games where buses are parked, we should use Coquelin. As shown against Blackburn, Coquelin knows how and when to cut in (instead of going for a desperate cross). He has the football intelligence and poise to do something more potent from the right flank.

henrydenrobin said...

Brilliant win, can't remember last time we beat Sunderland away, we were due that after last year's late late Bent goal! It's no coincidence that when teams play deep against us then our wingers struggle to find a way through!This where Gervinho adds something he has this ability and yet retain the ball, with some better end product he will give us hte variety we need in attack, hopefully he'll play next week. Whatever you say about Theo this understanding with The Perse is works, be careful what you wish for, people forget that he hasn't had a full season due to injuries, disclocated shoulders etc...give him one more season.

Anonymous said...

Meaner say..

Ramilson becoming Fab? hahhaha..

When Ramilson peformed well, he is unbelievable talented. When he doesn't, it is because he is only 21. Either way, he would never go wrong. I think he would score again... maybe after another 10 games or so lol