The day couldn’t have gotten to a better start with Everton beating Man U 3-1 at Goodison Park, meaning we had the chance to close the gap to Utd in second place to 2 points. Massive chance. The starting XI for the game was:
Sunderland went for an attacking line-up playing with Kenwyn Jones, Darren Bent and Frasier Campbell, although it looked more like 4-5-1 than 4-3-3 most of the time. As we lost to Sunderland in the away fixture back in November, it was also important that we didn’t let them do the double over us, even though incidentally, that was also their last league win!
We were quickly out of the blocks, which was refreshing to see, as we tend to start games slowly. We should have been 2-3 nil up inside 15 minutes and that would have been very much welcome. But then again, we’ve only scored one goal inside the first 15 minutes all season, and that was away from the Emirates!
The first real chance of the game came inside 4 minites on the counter, courtesy of Theo who embarrassed Sunderland defender George McCartney with his pace. A lovely ball from Cesc inside our half found Theo on the right, and off he went. He was so quick, no one could catch up with him; not even the Arsenal players trying to get into the box so he had to shoot from the right-hand side- just wide! Nasri also had a chance from a short corner routine, but his shot was deflected agonisingly over!
Theo again beat George McCartney down the right after being played in by Eboue, but with no one in the box and with the angle much tighter, he shot straight at the legs of the ‘keeper. He collected the rebound and passed it to Bendtner who shot just wide. Another chance fell to Bendtner, who had his shot deflected- onto the bar! He really ought to have scored though, as it was a fabulous chance.
Frazier Campbell did get clear of Silvestre, but he recovered well to block the shot. We had a chance immediately on the counter, but it came to nothing thanks to fabulous blocking from Sunderland.
Our midfield play was excellent, though we were slightly lacking in the final third but we finally got the goal our approach play deserved. Eboue made a storming run into the box and his cross/shot took a deflection, leaving Bendtner with the simplest of tap-ins at the far post. Rubbish defending though- there were about 3 Sunderland defenders in the box around Nikky B but behind him!
The rest of the half followed in much the same vein although Sunderland had a great chance to equalise, after Kenwyn Jones was played in between our centre-backs, but he screwed his shot wide with only Almunia to beat. So the score at half-time remained 1-nil to us, even though we had the chance to kill the game off, and really should have. Silvestre even had a fabulous pass across to Theo on the right, his low cross almost reaching Bendtner, but the goalkeeper was out quickly.
That’s how the first half went. We were well on top, but we had to make sure we didn’t ease up in the second half. 1-nil is never a safe scoreline and if we learnt anything from the away game at the Stadium of Light, it is that Sunderland can be clinical.
The second half started in similar fashion and we were practically camped in the Sunderland half. But it was generally quiet, by way of chances. Fabregas sent a free-kick from the left into the box and it took a faint touch off a Sunderland player and fizzed past the far post! Theo later forced Gordon into a decent save and Vermaelen’s fierce free kick had to be palmed away by Gordon.
Sunderland again had the chance to equalise after Bent outpaced Silvestre, but Almunia was there to make the save with his legs. Ramsey also had yet another Arsenal shot deflected away from goal and Gordon made a few more good saves.
Nasri got subbed for Rosicky later on with Theo also coming off for Sagna, Eboue moving into midfield.
But with Sunderland defending stoutly, the second goal just wouldn’t come, and it took an injury-time penalty to settle the nerves. Fabregas was brought down by Frazier Campbell (in or outside the box? I’d say it was inside) and the referee gave a penalty, only our second of the season. Fabregas got up to take it, and even though he missed our other penalty, he slotted this in confidently to the far right, sealing the comfortable win.
It wasn’t a classic by any means, but who cares? It’s 3 points on the board, and we’re only 2 points off 2nd place. We might not be any closer to 1st place as Chelsea won, but it was a good weekend for us.
Fabio was at the game, presumably to watch Theo. Who else? Maybe Bent? But either way, Theo needed to impress, and in my opinion he did. Not that he had his best game- he didn’t. But he showed enough to suggest that there’s still ‘life’ in him. He got into great positions a number of times and although he didn’t deliver a good enough final ball all the time, he was a constant thorn in their side, and the few times he provided a decent ball in, he didn’t have enough support. Obviously, it’s club that matters for now, but I think if he plays most of our games until the end of the season, he’s got a great chance of going to the World Cup, as he should be peaking at about March/April, and there’s no chance of him suffering burn-out.
Here’s what the Boss had to say about Theo’s performance:
“I think he is much sharper than three weeks ago. He is still lacking a bit of confidence in the final third but for 60-70 minutes he looked dangerous. He made good runs and I believe he is on the way up.”
Eboue had a storming game! Need I say more? And it was really nice not only that he did well, but the fans’ respnse to him after the game. He was even trending on Twitter! I guess last season’s problem is now water under the bridge- we love him, he loves us. good stuff. He was definitely the man-of-match and he got a good ovation when he was replaced by Denilson with a couple of minutes to go.
I didn’t really notice Ramsey much, but I according to a stat he made more complete passes than any other player, so I guess he must have had a good game! I think he deserves to start more games. Bendtner did alright as well, although you can tell he’s still trying to get his sharpness back. The goal would have boosted his confidence, not that he needs the confidence boost, anyways, but at least he’s back on the scoresheet.
I’d say our defence held up well, apart from the few times we let them get a 1 v 1, but generally, we weren’t troubled much. Almunia also had a quiet game, which was what we needed, after all the negative column inches our goalkeepers have amassed over the past week!
Fabregas picked up his 5th yellow of the season and according to the ATVO commentator, he misses the next game! I’m not too sure about that, because I remember there’s a different rule after Christmas- you need 10 yellows to be suspended. Anyways, hope I’m right and he isn’t, as we’ve got Stoke away!Not going to bother with Arsene’s reaction to the result, as it’s easy to figure out what his reaction would have been!
We’re quietly beginning to string a good run in the league and we’ve won our last 2 games, conceding none. Ofcourse they’ve both been home games, but hopefully it’s a platform we can build upon and if we win against Stoke it’ll be evidence that we’re serious of at least doing the best we can to win the league.