Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland… 3 points is all that matters.

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:

Almunia

Eboue – Silvestre – Vermaelen – Clichy

Song – Ramsey

Fabregas - Nasri – Walcott

Bendtner

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.

  • http://arsenalandtherandomthoughtsofmylife.blogspot.com/ Debs

    Apologies again for the length, I just can’t help myself! :-)

  • Pissed off

    Good one Debs. its well appreciated

  • http://arsenalandtherandomthoughtsofmylife.blogspot.com/ Debs

    Aw, cheers. It’s really good fun doing it, so I’m not complaining one bit! : )

  • devday

    Yet again Debs, another great article!!!

  • goonerman

    im pretty sure fabregas doesnt miss our next game i think the 5 yellow card cut off rule was somewere around christmas so captain fantastic should be ok to play! 2 premier league clean sheets on the bounce feeels really good becuase we do always give away silly goals but hopefully that gives the team confidence at the back! STOKE is going to be a bigger test than liverpool and sunderland surely? they are just a bunch of monsters and it seems they love to play us becuase they know exactly how to do so! hope we can stick it to them after the fa cup exit and obviously it will be a very different lineup! the one thing i would say that gives us a slightly better chance is that we will have bendter song and maybe campbell playing 3 big strong players which could be pretty vital! good post debs your obviously loving writing it becuase it takes a long time to read lol!!

  • http://arsenalandtherandomthoughtsofmylife.blogspot.com/ Debs

    Haha! I really try to keep it short, but with us, there tends to be loads of action crammed into 90mins! : p
    And I even forgot to mention Song. He had an immense game, as usual. Stoke away is definitely a massive one, as we haven’t won there for a really long time! Really hope Diaby’ll be fit, as we need as much height as we can get. Glad Nikky B’s fit!
    And thanks, Dev.

  • graham

    The partnership between William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen is good, but I believe that a future Johan Djourou and Thomas Vermaelen partnership could be even better.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Gallas and I hope that he stays at the club. The man has been immense for us this season. An unsung hero.

    Our former skipper, like Eboue, has won round many Gooners with his attitude. He really has impressed me with the way he has responded since the captaincy was taken away from him.

    He has shown true character. Gallas is a winner and the more like him at Arsenal, the better I say.

    Having said that, there is a chance he could leave the club in the summer. He is in the last few months of his contract and if Arsenal have learnt from past mistakes they had better sort it sooner rather than later.

    Or it could be too late.

    I look at Gallas and Vermaelen and its enjoyable to see two players who clearly like playing together. I think that our Belgian centre-half looks up to his partner.

    When the day comes I’m sure that Thomas will enjoy playing with Djourou too. Johan signed a long-term contract with us and I’m sure that Wenger sees him as an important player to Arsenal in the future.

    I really rate Djourou. I think he is a class player and with the right attitude he could go on to become one of the best centre-backs in Europe.

    Tall, pacey, good in the air, strong in the tackle and comfortable on the ball, he could really thrive alongside someone like Vermaelen. Then again I think anyone would be happy to play alongside the Belgian. He is that good!

    Djourou has been at Arsenal since 2003. That’s a long time for someone who is only 23 years old. He has been unlucky with injuries and it must be frustrating for him.

    I’m frustrated because, as I’ve said, I really rate him and I honestly believe that he would be knocking on the first-team door if he was available.

    By all accounts Djourou will be back in March. I’m happy with that because, alongside Sol Campbell, we will have quality options at the back.

    If I were in Arsene’s shoes I would advise Djourou to be Campbell’s shadow. Sol could mentor Johan and I couldn’t think of a better role-model in the art of defending.

    I hope that injuries don’t afflict Djourou in his future because he could have a great one. This injury nightmare is almost over for him and I’ll be glad to see him back.

  • goonerman

    im reallly hoping diaby is fit as well i hope the knee injury he has is similar to the one song had but wenger hasnt confirmed the extent of the injury yet so i suppose we should hope for the best! and graham i do agree i think Djourou will be the number 1 center back in the next year or 2 and he has always impressed when he played and he has the vital height we need so hopefully when gallas leaves he can step up to the plate alongside vermaelen and form a wuality partnership!

  • Sam

    ManC – Pool draw is another good result for us, as all teams around us are dropping points.

    ManIOU & Chelski will be meeting in the coming weeks. I’d hate to say it, but I think a ManU win is the best result for us! What do you think?

  • Sam

    With 11 games remaining, let’s do a simple math and try to predict where the top 3 will end the year:

    Arsenal currently @ 55 points
    Stock (A) 3 points
    Burnley (H) 3
    Hull (A) 3
    W’Ham (H) 3
    B’Ham (A) 3
    Wolves (H) 3
    Spurs (A) 3
    Wigan (A) 3
    ManC (H) 1
    B’Burn (A) 3
    Fulham (H) 3
    =============
    Total 86 points
    That means increasing our points per game from 2.04 to 2.82!

    ManU currently @ 57 points
    W’Ham (H) 3
    Wolves (A) 3
    Fulham (H) 3
    L’Pool (H) 1
    Bolton (A) 3
    Chelsea (H) 3
    B’Burn (A) 3
    ManC (A) 1
    Spurs (H) 3
    Sunder (A) 3
    Stock (H) 3
    =============
    Total 86 points
    That means increasing their points per game from 2.11 to 2.64!

    Chelsea currently @ 61 points
    ManC (H) 1
    W’Ham (H) 3
    B’Burn (A) 3
    P’Mouth (A) 3
    Villa (H) 1
    ManU (A) 0
    Bolton (H) 3
    Spurs (A) 3
    Stock (H) 3
    L’Pool (A) 1
    Wigan (H) 3
    =============
    Total 85 points
    That means decreasing their points per game from 2.26 to 2.18!

    I know football is unpredictable & “points per game” won’t change that much! But it goes to prove AW’s earlier statement that it will be very close this year, and even goal difference could decide the championship! Unfortunately, our goal difference is no longer as superior as it was earlier (in fact, we’re 3rd). Time to start banging in the goals!

  • graham

    Do you have to win…..

    the UEFA Champions League to be considered a Great Club?

    The topic of many a discussion. Discuss

  • dampatti

    An objective look at the remaining premiership fixtures shows that Arsenal have a favourable fixture list and with only 2 really tough games left, they are very much in the title race. What happened to United on saturday was exactly what i (and a lot of Arsenal fans) had predicted a while back, the top 2 are DEFINITELY going to drop points because their hardest matches are their last matches. Chelsea still have to travel to Man Utd, Liverpool and have Man City and Spurs at home. Man Utd still have to go to Man City and still have Spurs and Liverpool at home (some might say that those two have poor records in Old trafford but then again, Villa did and United only managed to get a single point from them this season). If the season continues to play out according to the laid down script (i.e Arsenal smashing the teams below them, Man Utd and Chelsea dropping points in midly tough fixtures) Arsenal have a fantastic chance of taking the title this season.

  • Gooner Get Ya

    @ Graham, To be a truely great “european club” I would say yes. We are already a great English club as we have been champions of the premier league and have won many domestic cups. We are classed as a big team in the CL but we are way down the pecking order!! We need to take the next step in European football and win it.

  • dada

    thought that as is the norm Steve Bennett put in a really good performance for our opponents, but even he must have felt really sorry he couldn’t have been up at Goodison effecting the result in United’s favour rather than doing his best to help Sunderland ease their way up the league. Bennett allowed the Mackems to hack away at will and performed his usual trick of pretending he’d left his cards at home for as long as possible. Only after we’d taken a good kicking did he deploy his first yellow card. Even then the caution he dished out was to Cana who on another day, with another ref, could have been sent off for his evil looking two-footed lunge on Eboue. Tackles from behind appeared to be de rigueur for Bruce’s men before the break, with Nasri in particular upended any number of times. Nothing like modelling the team in your own image eh Bruce?

    Strange how Bennett waved play on when we had a player down on the floor and no support for the man on the ball. This was not the case when we had a decent break on however. Just one fine example was when he pulled back a useful looking break down our left to card a handball designed specifically to slow down our break, thanks only to Bennett it did. Play was pulled back into our box and Sunderland were allowed to regroup behind the ball. Had Bennett employed his brain cell he could quite easily have booked Turner if and when the move broke down. The hapless Hutton could have been sent off on foul count alone, not that Bennett actually spotted many of them. Still Bennett as ever managed to book one of our big names which must have made his day. When you see the replays however Cesc’s attempted block didn’t even have rated a free kick, just a worthy Oscar winning performance by Mensah.

    Bennett’s most outrageous cock-up was the free kick he awarded Jones on the edge of our box because Vermaelen fell over next to him. Valiant attempt though this was to even up the game by Bennett such crass ignorance of the rules defies belief. Add this to the fact that Bennett didn’t want to award Cesc our very obvious penalty, that was the assistant ref. Until the lino put his flag across his chest Bennett had no intention of giving it. Steve Bruce was correct however in stating that Sunderland wouldn’t have been given such a penalty. Of course they wouldn’t, they’d have had to get into their opponents’ box to gain a spot kick, an exceedingly rare event for the Black Cats. And for the record Bruce should just shut up and watch the replays to see how obviously clear cut it was, he should also note that this was only the second penalty Arsenal have been awarded in the league for the entire season.

    But as crap referees go at least Steve Bennett is consistent – he’s always total rubbish.

  • Kuka

    @Graham – I do think there is prestige that comes with winning the Champions League. Unfortunately I do think its largely because of the money than anything else. A while back the trophy was symbolic of real superiority, but of late, it degenerated into a cup tie and many continue to argue that you cannot gauge how good a club is on a basis of a “cup” competition. For example, United can loose to AC Millan during the return game and be out the competition. But that can be for a number of reasons. They might have injuries, might have had tough / tiring game over the weekend and so on and so on. Pundits are therefore arguing that a GREAT Club is one that can compete consistently and at the high level to win a league – which requires focused determination etc. I am one who believes more in the LEAGUE – which is a measure over 38 games as compared to a cup tie which can be lost due to bad luck. Its easy to experience bad luck over one game, but you cannot be unlucky over a season of 38 games (ie in a league). So in my opinion, a club that dominates its league and consistently performs at the highest level in its league is a top top club

  • Arsefan101

    Man U need to beat Chelsea and then lose to Villa and Man City and even Sp*rs.

    Chelsea need to lose to someone else too!!

  • Yemi

    its very interesting at the top of the league, interesting at the 4th position, interesting at the remaining europe spots and sure interesting at the drop zone. Portsmuth playery very well these days but yet they fail to win with 11 games to go !!! I am loving this. We played well BUT would have won with a wider margin if we had a drogba or torres or carlton in that team on sunderland match day.

  • devday

    @Yemi – Or Van Persie??