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Arsenal 2 Sunderland 0

Arsenal 2 Sunderland 0

After the tribulations of the week where the hot topic has been Arsenal goalkeepers, it was back to the bread and butter of league business with the visit of Sunderland, who have suffered the Arsenal hex, having not won a single Premiership match since the reverse fixture in November. That`ll learn em. We gathered in the Tavern early to watch Everton`s very well deserved 3-1 win over United, which breathed a new importance into our fixture. Everton strike me more and more as an endearing cousin to Arsenal. Punching well above their weight as they compete year on year with far more resourced clubs, a manager that makes few singings but when he does they are invariably good ones allied to the fact that they seem to terminally suffer a lengthy injury list. Yesterday had an added importance personally too, as it was my nephew`s 18th birthday and we took him to the game and arranged for his birthday to be announced in the programme and over the tannoy at half time. It`s something of a ritual in my family that the men receive a specially made cannon pendant necklace on their 18th birthdays (well, so long as they actually support Arsenal that is!), so being able to carry on that tradition later in the evening was a moment of great sentiment.

There was something of a pleasant surprise too when Fabianski`s name was cheered loudly when announced amongst the subs. Perhaps it is to damn our support with feint praise that I half expected him to be booed. Due to a plethora of injuries in their midfield, Sunderland were left with little option but to play a striker on their right hand side and a central defender in central midfield. Arsenal meanwhile opted to change their right side with a more thrusting duo of Eboue and Walcott. Arsenal looked instantly to exploit a gaping hole in Sunderland`s left side when Fabregas turned an excellent long pass over the top of McCartney, despite being disadvantaged to the tune of about six yards, Walcott breezed past McCartney and onto the ball but dragged a shot wide from a demanding angle. Once more Arsenal looked to seek advantage on the right when Eboue played a simple ball down the line in behind McCartney again, Walcott yet again utterly outstripped McCartney from a standing start and motored onto the ball, but his team mates couldn`t keep pace, forcing Walcott to chance his arm from a tight angle. Bruce had seen quite enough of his left side being torn from hem to seem and switched Anton Ferdinand to left back with McCartney dropping into central midfield and Darren Bent was asked to play on the left of midfield. It looked to stem the flow initially as Arsenal`s next chance came from their left side. Ramsey had done incredibly well to maintain possession after slipping on the turf, Fabregas found Nasri in a pocket of space on the left and he pulled back for Bendtner, the big Dane turned and saw his shot blocked by McCartney with the resulting ricochet taking the ball onto the crossbar. Thereafter another deflection in the area took Arsenal close as Fabregas worked a short corner to Nasri who was left to hit a left footed shot which flew narrowly over the bar via Michael Turner`s studs.

But the visitors fired a warning shot of their own, Darren Bent slipped a through ball to Fraizer Campbell which Vermaelen bizarrely stood and watched, leaving Gael Clichy to move over and provide some distraction, as Almunia was out and smothered Campbell`s close range attempt. But the warning shot did little to knock Arsenal out of their attacking stride and they assumed the lead on 27minutes. Emmanuel Eboue exposed the defensive inexperience in Darren Bent by roaring past him and then Ferdinand on the left and driving a low cross into the box which Nicklas Bendtner was on hand to stroke into an empty net from all of two yards. It`s not often Arsenal players drive into an opponent`s penalty area with that sort of conviction and even less often that there is an Arsenal body present in the six yard area to convert low crosses, so this was a most pleasing goal indeed and a great fillip to the confidence of Bendtner. However, the acclaim was all Eboue`s for his foray and rightly so.

But Sunderland might well have been back in the game with an instant riposte. Ramsey over elaborated on the ball in his own half, Richardson was quick to nip in and dispossess him before playing a slide rule pass to Kenwyne Jones. Just as he had at Upton Park, Silvestre got caught trying to push up for offside far too late and allowed his man to go through unopposed, but thankfully Jones contrived to blast wide. Had Denilson given the ball away in the manner Ramsey did, I dread to think of the howls of derision in the stadium. But the Gunners were clearly looking to their right side for the inspiration and Silvestre swept an excellent forty yard pass across to Walcott on the right flank, Ferdinand backed off terrified of feeling the effects of Theo`s afterburners, allowing Walcott to send in a low cross which Gordon just managed to get to before the prowling Bendtner, who was again foraging for scraps in the six yard box.

Having played a taxing European game on the continent on Wednesday night, it was perhaps understandable that Arsenal`s level dropped in the second half. A left wing free kick from Cesc Fabregas narrowly evaded the studs of the lunging Thomas Vermaelen on the far post. From there the game quietened until Emmanuel Eboue`s quick throw in found Walcott in an ocean of space on the right, he made a beeline for the penalty area before cutting in onto his left foot and forcing a sprawling save from Craig Gordon. But nerves were beginning to set into an anxious crowd. The Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon curiously still seemed happy to take his time with his goal kicks until around the 80th minute of the match, a clear sign that Sunderland were planning to keep the score down to one and hit a tired Arsenal side in the last ten minutes. It was from one of his goal kicks that the nerviest of moments emerged. Jones flicked on the route one clearance to Bent with Silvestre again lagging behind, but Almunia was out smartly to smother Bent`s finish. It capped a good game for Almunia, who didn`t have a great deal to do, but kept his concentration at such a level that he was able to make the interceptions required of him. Yet again, Eboue would prove to be a thorn in Sunderland`s left side, yet again he drove into the box with a determined run, motoring to the by line before pulling the ball back to Ramsey, whose shot was blocked at the crucial moment by Turner.

That run from Eboue appeared to spark Arsenal back into life as they searched for a second goal. Nasri popped up on the right, twisted and turned Ferdinand before sending a low shot goalwards which Gordon turned away. The ball bobbled around the box and Turner and McCartney got in a tangle and Walcott nearly intercepted their bungled back pass to Gordon. The ball broke loose to Fabregas, whose pull back found Nasri just off balance as he steered the ball wide with his left foot. Nerves began to jangle in injury time with a carbon copy of the situation in our last home game against Liverpool. Darren Bent stumbled under no challenge (he didn`t dive, he just genuinely lost balance) and Steve Bennett gave a ridiculous free kick which Zenden thankfully drove straight into the wall.

Arsenal immediately broke and when Fabregas sauntered into the area on the right, Fraizer Campbell clumsily hauled him to the floor for Arsenal`s third penalty of the season. Bendtner wanted it but the captain pulled rank and stepped up to coolly slot precisely into the bottom right hand corner to seal the three points. It was a deserved three points with many players putting in good performances. Eboue was probably the most eye catching player on the pitch; Walcott demonstrated what an effective player he can be, though he needs to show a little more composure in the area. Clichy, Song and the centre halves appeared to stay in their positions rather than all foraging forward like randy, groping teenagers and Almunia made match saving interventions when called upon. The set up had an attacking bent to it with Eboue and Ramsey coming in for the sturdier Sagna and Denilson. I suspect the two omitted would come back into the starting line up for the Stoke game, but it`s a positive sign that we can show some variety depending on the opponents and the circumstances. We exploited the fact that Sunderland were forced to play with two penalty box strikers covering the wings, but Arsenal are often accused of playing the same way without appreciating their opponent`s weaknesses so this was a refreshing occurrence. With United losing, we`re two points behind them and six behind Chelsea with eleven games to go. It`s a tall order and I still suspect the biggest test would be how we would pass the psychological examination if we were to creep back into the picture as something other than stark outsiders. For now, Stoke City away will test our credentials to the fullest.LD.

1.ALMUNIA, 27.EBOUE (15.Denilson `89), 5.VERMAELEN, 18.SILVESTRE, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 16.RAMSEY, 4.FABREGAS(c), 14.WALCOTT (3.Sagna `78), 8.NASRI (7.Rosicky `72), 52.BENDTNER. Unused: 12.Vela, 21.Fabianski, 30.Traore, 31.Campbell.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday February 21 2010
Time: 12:17PM


Great report - really nice to read a positive one from you as opposed to withering put downs. Eboue played an absoloute blinder, Walcott played well, we looked fairly solid bar a couple of cock ups, we're looking good. I think Eboue should get more games in the RB spot. He was really, really good.
21/02/2010 12:28:00
It will be interesting to see whether Eboue can convince Wenger to reinstate him as the number 1 RB or whether Arsene now has it in his mindset that Bacary is automatically first choice. It was good to see Theo managing to get himself involved, but he still makes some very wayward runs off the ball and as always his final ball lets him down. Hopefully now he's fit he can really work on that in training. Also, it looked like Song needed that small injury to have a bit of a rest after the ACN, he played well yesterday. It is still worrying how long it took us to wrap the game up, and how yet again our defence, having been solid for most of the game, managed to let Jones into a one on one position in so much space. I'm thrilled we got the 3 points but we still look like an accident waiting to happen.
21/02/2010 13:12:00
Glad Fabianski got applause, sure he got savaged here in the aftermath and rightly so, but it's another day you start afresh and the lad will obviously need a pick up from the 57 pieces he finds himself in. Didn't see any of the game and haven't even seen the goals yet so I'm off to watch MOTD, great result after a draining and depressing euro sortie though, and well done the toffees!
21/02/2010 13:30:00
Good report - inevitably, but also a good reflection on the need to understand that the players and the set up in this game isn't going to yield the same result everytime. It didn't make much difference who we had playing in central defence today or that Vermaelen was playing on an unfamilar side of that defence - it would probably matter a great deal more against other opposition. Eboue and Walcott (composure aside) stand next to no chance of repeating their performance on the more agricultural pitch at Stoke. Claims that Eboue is now a better bet than Sagna or Ramsey better than Denilson doesn't take enough into consideration.
21/02/2010 13:34:00
Good write-up LD. Not playing a game in midweek before our trip to the Britannia will be very helpful considering the fact that we played 4 fatigue-inducing matches against United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Porto. And hopefully Stoke's FA cup replay against City will go into extra time because we're gonna need all the luck we can get to bring three points back to London next week. Theo and Bendtner are slowly regaining match sharpness and repaying some of that mercurial faith Le Boss has invested in them. And correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't there an audible sigh of relief from the away fans when Eboue got subbed off?
21/02/2010 16:32:00
Ramsey's dallying on the ball which almost led to a Kenwyne Jones goal was criminal; he had 2 easy passing options and decided to fool around with it instead. Our defence looked vulnerable; I wonder if it had anything to do with Eboue's constant attacking. Fair play to Almunia though, he looked like he belongs.
21/02/2010 23:39:00
Walcott and Eboue showed one aspect of Arsenal that we really haven't seen much of in a while: direct, fast breaking from the wings. In our glory days with Henry and Pires and co, we had plenty of this, but recently we have become slower, due to players like Nasri and Rosicky being played as wingers. A style of play that gets the best out of Walcott's attributes will go a long way to making us less predictable. Good to see Eboue's performance, particularly as it will give Sagna the kick up the bum he needs.
21/02/2010 23:46:00
Krismon, agree with you on all counts except on our defence being vulnerable, at least Sunderland's shots on goal statistics don't suggest that. Sure, there were those 3 situations including the 2 one-on-ones, but that happens to the best of defensive line-ups, I feel. Again those opportunities were due to Silvestre's slow attempt to push up and keep Jones offside (he shouldn't be trying that with his lack of pace, really); the other involved Ramsey's inexplicable loss of possesion when he had options all around. It is not every time you will have such a pair in our CB position. I think Arsene does like us playing with pace in the wings and cannot wait to have Theo firing again; Eboue, though will only appear as RB, depending on the opposition, but he was on fire yesterday and is becoming a firm favourite with the fans. We were lucky a bit with having a home fixture right after the Porto loss and the players should benefit from the week long rest as we take on Stoke at the weekend.
22/02/2010 09:52:00
Eboue should start on the right instead of Nasri/Rosicky, and might prove useful to give more than one player in the squad a kick up their arse. A defence consisting of Silvestre should be expected to have more than one wobble, so it didnt come as too much of a surprise. It was a good result overall, and this is now the start of a good run, hopefully.
22/02/2010 13:46:00
Not sure we should whack Eboue up top to be honest Prits. I think he played so well because he was attacking from very deep and creating problems on the overlap. I seriously think he is a fantastic right back and should stay as such. Either there, or the right side of the midfield 3, but not the front 3 IMHO.
22/02/2010 13:56:00
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