Was this the realisation of the importance of Robin van Persie or were Arsenal just missing a certain amount of cutting edge in the starting line-up? Certainly there was a case for both sides of the coin as the Gunners fell to their third defeat of the season at the Stadium of Light.
As ever Arsenal showed their frailties from set-pieces, the goal resembling a game of hot-potato as Frazier Campbell found himself unmarked at the back post to inadvertently knock the ball back across goal for Darren Bent to poke home. Before that Arsenal enjoyed a glut of possession particularly in the first half but were only able to fashion two clear-cut chances in that period. Rosicky’s volley from an acrobatic Cesc Fabregas knock on was saved by the body of Fulop while Eduardo linked up well with Alex Song before his shot went inches wide.
The ghosts of seasons past were certainly out as while Arsenal stroked the ball about with relative comfort, Sunderland were able to stifle their approach play by remaining compact and organised. The key to Arsenal’s style this season has been the angles created in support with the central forward but in this instance their was little interchange between the front men. The half-wingers in the 4-3-3, (or closer to a 4-1-4-1 and not just in a temporary attacking/defensive phase) played deeper than the Gunners have been accustomed to this season and as a result the side missed the dynamism to get behind the defences. “ I believe that going forward especially we lacked sharpness and desire to go behind the defenders,” rued Arsene Wenger. “We had chosen the easy part of the game, that is always come to the ball and not to be exposed then with our pace in behind. In football, if you want to score goals, you have to go behind the defenders.”
Indeed once Vela, Arshavin and Walcott all came on their was an added directness and interchangeability about the play but that could be attributed to the urgency of the situation and freshness of the players. Two cross-shots were flashed across goal with no-one to get to the end of it and of course no Eduardo who at this time, was sacrificed. In the second instance, Carlos Vela made himself available on the left-side to drive past the goal and Wenger would have hoped his main striker had produced the same movements in the earlier periods of the game. Maybe Eduardo’s more orthodox style didn’t compliment the style of the wide-men he started with and would have done so with Arshavin and Walcott either side of him. Indeed, it is maybe Arsenal’s unorthodox style which has seen them not receive a penalty this season since the central forward tends to operate in different areas and when Vela was tripped in the box, referee Alan Wiley was having none of it.
Has Robin van Persie become Arsenal’s most important player or is it the dictating abilities of Fabregas which is still tops? Or even the dynamism and ingenuity of Arshavin? The three Arsenal defeats this season have seen at least one of the key trio missing and the task for the side to breed more cohesion all-round. Slaven Bilic feels the modern game is about “the movement of ten players” while Dunga has stated teams must be more dynamic to open up sides. This balance Robin van Persie gives in conjunction with his supporting cast is already looking more and more important and the ball is in now Eduardo’s court to show that he can do the same – starting with key games with Standard Liege and Chelsea.
Sunderland 1-0 Arsenal: D. Bent, 71.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Fulop, Bardsley, Da Silva, Mensah (Ferdinand 82min), McCartney, Malbranque (Campbell 66min), Cana, Richardson, Henderson, Reid* (Zenden 78min), Bent.
Subs: Carson, Nosworthy, Murphy, Healy.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia (6), Sagna (7), Vermaelen (7), Gallas (7), Traore (6), Song (7), Ramsey (5) (Arshavin 6), Fabregas (7), Rosicky (6) (Walcott 5), Eduardo (6) (Vela 6), Nasri (6).
Subs: Mannone, Denilson, Silvestre, Eboue.
Referee: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire)
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|1||Shots on Target||2|
|6||Shots off Target||6|