When Chelsea went into half time in their match against Birmingham trailing by a solitary goal, the Chelsea fans went into frenzy. They were booing and offered their team no support whatsoever. It got worse, they were singing Mourinho songs. At the Stadium of Light, the travelling Arsenal fans were facing the same situation but resorted to none of those sorts. Our fans were brilliant. That’s the most positive thing I can find from this game.
After the disheartening performance in midweek, the FA Cup represents the most viable route for Arsenal to win a trophy this season. Perhaps Arsene Wenger was mindful of what happened before and wanted a good result to bring the faith back into the team. Or perhaps Wenger was really taking this competition seriously as well. Either way, this was reflected in the selection that took to the field.
Kieran Gibbs was missing from the list. The best possible reason offered on the social media network was that it was precautionary and nothing more than that. In came Francis Coquelin at left back. Theo Walcott took a place on the bench as Gervinho returned to the starting line-up. As expected Johan Djourou lined up alongside Thomas Vermaelen for the injured Laurent Koscienly.
If we take into the account the last 3 games, including this one. Yesterday was probably the best pitch condition that we’ve played in those 3 games. But that did not prove to be helpful to our cause. Sunderland looked focused and approached the game well from a tactical point of view. Just like when we visited them a week ago and looked fresher, it was the other way around this time.
Sunderland were defending deep and thus limiting the runs behind the defence that the pacy wide players in Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain and Gervinho could do. The only time that one of them managed to break through, Gervinho found Simon Mignolet up to the task and the home keeper palmed the ball away. Our next best opportunity came when Alex Song put Robin Van Persie through and John O’Shea tripped RvP inside the box. As it was Howard Webb, I’m not really surprised the decision wasn’t given.
All this after Coquelin only lasted 10 minutes at the very start of the game. His second hamstring in recent months. Real shame, at a time when we could really use his talent. In came Sebastien Squillaci and Vermaelen was moved to the left back role. A back four of Bacary Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou and Vermaelen would probably ranked as the 6th or 7th best combination at club. When the defence is in disarray, the midfielders have to compensate and help out. That’s where we lose our team shape.
From a corner kick, Sunderland scored. There was no special routine from this corner. Simple in-swinging ball in, Vermaelen cleared the ball to the edge of our penalty box. But that’s where the problem started. We had one player on the halfway line and everyone else crowding the 6 yards line. Sunderland had 2 players free just outside the box. Kieran Richardson accepted the invitation to shoot and took it before any Arsenal player could even get close. It was probably going wide before a deflection off Squillaci sent it past Lukasz Fabianski. The problem was organisation, or the lack of it.
Whatever that was said at half time might have been inspiring and lifted the spirit of the players. However, it did not help that just 8 minutes after the restart, we had to remove Squillaci and Aaron Ramsey. Both got injured and immediately we used up all the options that we could use. Tomas Rosicky came into midfield which moved Song in a centre back role while Walcott was given his debut audition as a centre forward.
The second of those substitution made no sense to me. If the opponent were playing a high line, then Walcott’s entrance would’ve made perfect sense. As it is, Sunderland were already sitting deep and Walcott’s threat was easily nullified. We pushed and pushed more men forward but to no avail. We lacked a real imaginative presence in the middle of the park. Rosicky was busy but lacked real penetration. As we go in search of the equaliser, we were hit on the counter.
Mikel Arteta said this after the Milan game. It makes it infuriating when players themselves acknowledges what the problem is but seemed to never learn from it. AOC lost the ball in the attacking half and the impressive Stephane Sessegnon went on driving forward. He got until our penalty box before releasing it to Sebastian Larsson on the right. Larsson’s shot went underneath Fabianski but hit the post. It bounced right onto the path of the on-rushing AOC and into the net it went.
AOC was the one who lost the ball in the first place but you must question the player who passed it to him (can’t remember who now). Why take that option when there’s already 2 players surrounding AOC? But big credit to the youngster who chased all the back to defend. Shame none of the Arsenal leaders came to console AOC immediately after the own goal or after the game. The fact that a few Sunderland players did made it even worse. We can’t be arsed to lift the spirit of a youngster. What a team we have.
At the moment, the performance are going on a downward spiral again. I don’t think that’s a watershed moment of the season, there seemed to be plenty of those for this season. The additional injuries are not helping our cause either. Next weekend represents a very big game for us. After all that has happened this week, you would think the North London Derby and the significance of that match just got bigger.