Arsenal beat Sunderland yesterday at the Grove but it was no where near as vintage a performance any Wenger’s Arsenal side. Perhaps the strain from the Porto match affected the players as the team just could not get going. A goal in each half settle the tie and exact some form of revenge on Sunderland who got one on us in the away fixture. Results elsewhere meant that we are still in 3rd spot, 2 points behind United and 6 behind of Chelsea.
Wenger made 6 changes from the side that started at Porto with Almunia returning in goal, Eboue and Silvestre in defence, Ramsey and Song in midfield and Walcott in attack. Fabianski, Sagna, Campbell, Denilson, Rosicky and Diaby the ones that dropped out. Nothing much was conjured up in the first half except for one occasion when Walcott was put through on the right only to dragged the shot wide of the far post of Sunderland’s goal.
When the goal came midway in the first half, it was via by far the most impressive Arsenal player on show last night. Eboue has looked more and more like the right back that he was when he first started his Arsenal career. He was showing maturity when defending without going into reckless challenges and was in his element when going forward. His foraging runs on the right flank never fail, I seriously think he is the best dribbler at the club now (twice the player that Walcott is when running with the ball).
One of those runs saw Eboue got into Sunderland’s penalty box and was blocked by 2 defenders. Somehow the Ivorian managed to create a little space and tried a cross cum shot which found it’s way to an unmarked Bendtner who subsequently scored one of the easiest goal he will ever score in his career. The striker was onside and was good to anticipate a follow-up but all credit should go to the right back for that goal.
The second goal came at the very final action of the match as Fabregas converted his own penalty to firmly seal the game beyond the reach of Sunderland. It’s been a long time coming since Arsenal have won a penalty. That is since the Eduardo “dive” in the Celtic game (correct me if I’m wrong). It was a perfectly stroked penalty which gave Sorensen no chance to save it. Even though we had the bulk of the possession, we really needed the second goal to kill of the tie. Sunderland had their chance to get back into the game but could not take their chance.
With Vermaelen playing on the right side of the central defence and Silvestre and the left sided berth, there were several avenues for Sunderland to exploit. That the Belgian looks uncomfortable on the right is an understatement. His reliance on his left leg meant that Sunderland players could go outside of him instead of going into the middle, they stand a good chance to past the Belgian. Silvestre’s pace or rather the lack of it was cruelly exposed by first Bent, then Jones.
Time and again Sunderland played the long back from defence to their strikers and it was an efficient tactic for the opposition to use. Silvestre looks flustered every time he needs to face a high ball and always chose to let the ball drop and bounce instead of heading it away the first time. That move allowed Bent/Jones to gain ground as well as space. Silvestre will need to thanks his lucky stars and Almunia for thwarting the Sunderland strikers. Too bad Campbell can’t play every game and I’m already missing Billy Gallas.
There’s 11 more wins to go. 11 more finals to be played. Performance is set aside as the results matter more. If there are 11 more days like last night, I won’t be complaining provided the end result is the same, a win for Arsenal.