In the past 3 years, there was only one match in which Arsenal were dominated and made to chase the game “without the ball”. That match was against Barcelona in the last years quarter finals. We were made to chase the shadows by a technically superior team with intense pressing. Even against ManU and Chelsea we had superior possession and created decent chances in the first half of the match at least. Yesterday Sunderland showed after all Gunners can be dominated in possession too.
Steve Bruce set out his side by packing his midfield with tall physical players and with a lone target man. Sunderland were very clear in their plan , crowd the midfield and press our deep lying mid fielders and forced them to harry the passes. The tactic was very successful and completely unsettled Arsenal and very successful in isolating the forwards and the midfield. Song’s impatience and his new found intent to push forward was not helping Arsenal. Too often Wilshere was left all alone in the middle of Arsenal’s half , Wilshere’s inexperience came to the fore he either made wrong decision or hoofed the ball up and lost possession.
The image below shows how effective Sunderland’s pressing was. They won so many balls in Arsenal’s half especially down the left. Combining this with Arsenal midfield’s inability to win the balls compounded the problem for Arsenal. In Fabregas’ 28 mins on the field , not once Song could find him with a pass. Fabregas touched the ball just 6 times in that time which is too less for Arsenal captain for 1/3 rd of the match. Another shocking piece of stat shows the problem with Arsenal’s midfield yesterday, Song in the first 45 mins passed only once to Wilshere . The advantage of the double pivot system it helps the team keep possession with an extra easier midfield option , but this was simply not used yesterday.
In the middle somewhere Arsenal captain magically lobbed above the Sunderland keeper from 30 yards out. Arsenal’s only moment of the half was that and luck ended there. Song’s inability to break up the attack and win the ball, forced him into fouls and inevitably got a booking. I do not want to talk about the refree, but his inconsistency in showing the cards was tough to miss out. Cesc’s departure with injury did not help matters much either, Rosicky could not gain the control of the midfield.
For all their possession and domination of midfield sunderland had very little to no clue on attack. All they had to offer was high balls into the box, Koscielny and Squillaci was good enough for the balls in the air. Especially Koscielny was proactive in defending was covering Clichy excellently . Koscielny almost invariably won every ball in the air. Sunderland could not bother the solid Arsenal back five including Almunia. It was quite strange to attribute the above lines to some other team than Arsenal. Notably the solid defense to which Arsenal are not associated with.
Arsenal started the second half well keeping the possession and started moving the ball forward nicely. Song’s miserable day ended with a second yellow a deserved one. Totally useless Arshavin was replaced by Denilson. Denilson calmed things down in the middle winning the ball without committing fouls. And his simple play allowed Arsenal to keep possession. Arsenal were playing much better with 10 men, keeping the balance between defense and offense. Sunderland started tiring at this point. Arsenal looked quite comfortable to hold on to the lead. Nasri was felled in the box in the 75th min and let Rosicky take the penalty. Rosicky duly shot over the bar as he has been doing in his last few matches.
Arsenal defense held on well for 20 more mins, with a 5 second lapse in concentration and not playing for the whistle costed 2 points for Arsenal. Although ref was inconsistent in calling fouls and issuing cards he had little bearing on the result. It was Arsenal’s game to loose with a penalty miss and loosing concentration did us in. Yet there were quite a few positives for Arsenal from the match. Had we won the game it would have been one of the best result of the season.
On to individual performance
- Almunia: Was excellent , saved all those when he had to. Swept up when needed especially when Denilson made that awful back pass. Was confident and organized defense. Overall nothing more to ask from.
- Koscielny: Won every header . Always cleaned up the mess left by midfield. Also covered Clichy well. Looks solid as good as any CB in the league. We have got a gem.
- Squillaci: Silently did what he had to. Played perfect foil for Koscielny’s proactive defending. Actually the pair played as if they are one player. So synchronized and covering each other well. Dare i say this is our best CB pairing, Vermaelen affects the balance.
- Sagna: Solid as ever , could not get forward as Song was always in advanced positions. Did well in defense when asked for.
- Clichy: Same old, stayed back a lot. Panicked inside the box and with few mishaps as usual. I would not blame him for the goal though.
- Song : Easily the worst player in both the teams combined. Stupid fouls , could not win any ball in the middle of the park failed to control the tempo as a DM. Played too many forward passes /through balls when we were struggling to keep possession. Should have played more sensibly as Wilshere is totally inexperienced.
- Wilshere: Should not have started the game, was brushed aside of the ball too many times. Made all sort of wrong decisions and with that atrocious back heel near the box. Songs staying too far away did not help him too much either.
- Cesc: Anonymous till he was in the pitch , should have dropped deeper and took control over the midfield . As a captain atleast should have asked Song to shut up and stay back.
- Nasri: Very anonymous in the first half, second half grew into the game. With entire midfield malfunctioning he could not have done much. Should have taken the penalty. Played very well to kill time off.
- Chamakh: Worked his socks off. Did well in defense. There was no offense in the first half. Should have finished off that chance in first half.
- Arshavin: Nothing to tell about him. I am not sure why he should be in the team. Lost balls every time he got the ball and missed few chances Vela could have finished those off i guess. Fingers crossed on when Wenger will finally have the guts to drop him. We were much better team after he left the field and Arsenal were with 10 men.
- Rosicky: Failed to show he is an experienced player and to take control of midfield in the first half. Had a very good second half , keeping the possession well and also creating few chances.
- Denilson: Calmed down things in the mid once he came on, excellent cameo as good as his Barca game. Made that awful back pass which would have been easily a goal but for Almunia other wise he was refreshing should be automatically ahead of Wilshere. He has a very calm head and won lots of balls in the middle.
- Wenger: I feel Wilshere is being given too much importance may be he is trying to please the English press. Wilshere does not deserve to start so many games. Otherwise good subs.
P.S: Though i have used guardian stats so many times, i do not feel they are accurate and also it is inadequate. I am thinking of making stats on our own for Arsenal at least , it is impossible for me alone to collect the stats if anybody is interested we can together have a decent stats bank i guess. I will try to post some initial stats.