One of the worst things about Arsenal’s slow start to the season for myself and fellow American fans is that Arsenal matches are getting bumped to more obscure television channels or not shown live at all. This was the case this week, as only Fox Soccer Plus (which is not a part of my television plan) carriedSunderland@ Arsenal live. The game was not replayed until Monday night, so I was only just able to catch the match in full. As such, my reflection will be both brief and tardy.
Big news of the morning here has nothing to do with Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland, and that news is that Thomas Vermaelen has signed a new long-term deal with the club. Assuming health, which with Vermaelen is a large assumption; this is an important move for Arsenal. Vermaelen, when healthy, has been a top-notch center half, and Arsenal always look a better team with him in the squad than without him. By all accounts he’s also well-liked in the locker room, and a leader at the club, so locking him up long term sends a strong message to other players & fans perhaps wondering about the future of the club. Let’s hope that Vermaelen can convince van Persie to make a similar move, though I don’t expect that to happen until Arsene makes other moves to solidify the club’s position for the future.
Alright, now on to my quick-and-dirty match reflection. Things started as well as anyone could have possibly hoped for, with captain Robin van Persie scoring a mere 29 seconds into the match, the fastest goal scored in the Premier League this season. The good times kept rolling for The Arsenal, who dominated the first 25 minutes of the match. As we have seen so many times, however, Arsenal failed to get the second goal, despite three or four stellar chances (van Persie’s right-footed chip off the post most readily comes to mind, but there were others). During this stretch,Sunderlandlooked completely off the pace, never even threatening the Arsenal defense, and in every way other than the score line the match looked a rout.
As so often happens, Arsenal were punished for failing to pull 2 or 3 goals in front during their period of total dominance when former Gunner Sebastian Larsson tucked in a beautiful free kick from just outside the box in the 31st minute. The equalizer total shifted momentum, and all of the suddenSunderlandnot only were even on the scoreboard, but also took it to Arsenal, who looked shocked to be even again. It took a miracle save from Szczesny (or a terrible point-blank miss from Lee Cattermole) to keep the game level as it went into halftime.
To Arsenal’s credit, they came out and controlled the game again in the second half. Rosicky played as well as I’ve ever seen him play while filling in for Ramsey in the middle. In fact, it was Rosicky and Song who pressed the game in the midfield, as Arteta never seemed to get into the match. Gibbs, predictably, went off with an injury early in the second half, butSantosappointed himself well in emergency fill-in duty. Again, it’s becoming a given that Arsene’s first substitution will be due to injury, which pretty much sums up the season up to this point. After terrible set pieces taken by Santos, Arteta, & Walcott in succession, it van Persie finally earned himself a free kick in a position he fancied and made the most of it. It took until the 82nd minute, but the captain again put the team on his back and put Arsenal ahead with a glorious free kick. The end was shaky, to say the least, as Sunderland threw everything they had at Arsenal’s makeshift defense, but in the end Arsenal got the three points they deserved, and climbed up to 10th in the table in doing so.
In sum, Arsenal were the better team for the vast majority of the match, but again did not respond well to adversity at home. They did respond better in the second half, but it shouldn’t always take 2 goals from van Persie to get all the points. Arsenal will only be able to win consistently if people like Gervinho & Walcott start scoring consistently. The same could be said for Arshavin, who looked good after he came off the bench, but the moral of the story is that production must come from somewhere other than the captain.
And now for the awards…
Man of the Match – Robin van Persie
Honorable Mention – Tomas Rosicky / Alex Song
Gingers Do Have Souls!! – Jack Colback