It wasn’t a brilliant performance from Arsenal against Sunderland on Saturday, but considering the injuries in the squad, and the winless league run in November, the 3-1 victory was incredibly welcome. It was nervy, particularly near the end before the third goal in injury time clinched the points, and Arsenal were thankful to Petr Cech for some excellent saves, but it got the job done.
For all the injuries and negativity in November, the win over the Black Cats moved the Gunners up to second in the table and keeps them two points behind the leaders. Every game in the Premier League is turning into a real challenge in this crazy season, so any win is invaluable.
For most of the game, Arsenal looked like a team that were missing a lot of regulars. The team weren’t as fluid as usual and missed the incisive runs of Alexis Sanchez. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked very rusty on his return from injury, while Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini will still need time to develop a new central midfield partnership.
The Gunners were grateful for Mesut Ozil continuing his excellent run of form by being the creative hub for the hosts. The German seemed to be the one player able to ignore the issues in the team around him and put in a majestic performance. While Leicester’s flying goal scorers are making headlines, I think that Ozil is the best player in the Premier League at the moment. He looks in complete control of the game when he’s playing, is always looking to play a forward pass rather than just ticking the game over and he’s looking much stronger when on the ball. There was a flick in the second half following a clearance from Flamini that left DeAndre Yedlin lost and confused that just summed up how good Ozil is feeling about his game at the moment.
After not really creating much in the first half, and having seen Sunderland go close to opening the scoring a couple of times, it wasn’t a surprise that Ozil was the one to spark Arsenal into life. His beautiful pass inside the full-back allowed Joel Campbell to run in from the left and roll the ball under the advancing goalkeeper to open the scoring.
Campbell had a decent game and is looking to get involved more in the intricate attacking moves, and in turn, the players around him are more trusting in giving him the ball. Consistency is what the Costa Rican needs to make a real impact at the club, and at the moment he seems to have a good game followed by a poor game. Given the importance of Wednesday night’s trip to Greece, hopefully he’ll break that cycle following a good effort against Sunderland.
Arsenal didn’t kick on after taking the lead, continuing the worrying recent trend in the league of conceding after going one goal ahead. The equaliser came from a dangerous free-kick whipped into the near post and Olivier Giroud misjudged the flight and shinned the ball into his own net.
On a difficult day against three centre-backs, Giroud looked to be having one of those games when his head drops and he moans more than he plays. But he picked himself up and headed Arsenal back in front in the second half with a brilliantly taken goal. Ozil, Monreal and Ramsey combined well on the left hand side before the Welshman clipped in a delicate cross. Giroud attacked the ball brilliantly with a stooping header to find the gap at the near post. The Frenchman was probably sparked into life when he saw Theo Walcott poised to come on off the bench.
Moments earlier, Arsenal were indebted to another brilliant Cech save. It was concerning to see Arsenal give up so many good chances to a team such as Sunderland, but the value of the world class goalkeeper was obvious on Saturday.
Arsenal dropped off too much as the match went on, inviting late pressure from Sunderland, and brought on all the full-backs to try and see the game out, but the Gunners saw the game through with a late clincher in injury time. Aaron Ramsey had a decent game back in the centre of midfield and capped his performance with a goal. It was scrappy, but the Welshman was the only midfielder in the squad likely to have got himself in the position in the six-yard box to force the ball over the line.
As the team was virtually made up of who was left in the first-team squad because of the injures, I’m not too concerned by the performance as the fluidity should come with more time spent together. The win was vital and the same result on Wednesday would be enough to get the Gunners through in Europe. Whatever the state of the rest of the team, with Mesut Ozil pulling the strings, there’s a good chance that Arsenal can achieve it.