The shock of a last-minute setback has an unwelcome habit of skewing the conclusions that can be drawn from a game of football. Indeed, today’s post could probably come with two very different match reports: one written before the goalmouth scramble that allowed Darren Bent to hammer home Sunderland’s equaliser and one written afterwards.
The first report would point to Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci’s heroic defensive effort and the superb ball-retention abilities of Marouane Chamakh, Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky as the key components of a fine backs-to-the-wall victory. It would speak of the team’s excellent adjustment to going down to ten men, of Manuel Almunia’s flawless display in goals and a coming-of-age performance by Jack Wilshere, who recovered from a poor first half to navigate the team to victory in the second.
In contrast, the second would speak of the “same old Arsenal”, defensively soft and throwing away points that the other big sides just wouldn’t. It would speak of Tomas Rosicky’s inability to kill the game off from the penalty spot when Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard would have, of a team struggling to find creativity without Cesc Fabregas on the pitch and above all, a disorganised and calamitous defensive effort in the final seconds that gifted Sunderland their equalising goal.
Sometimes it is harder to accept that things happen in football that we don’t want to happen, that no-one in particular is to blame and that’s just the way the game is. The ref doesn’t always have to be biased, the defence doesn’t always have to be terrible and the players don’t have to mentally weak to concede a goal. Sometimes the other team just scores. You only have to look at Cesc Fabregas’ opener to see my point.
There was plenty that went on long before Sunderland’s devastating equaliser. Cesc opened the scoring before going off injured, Alex Song was harshly sent off early in the second half for two yellow cards and Rosicky clipped the bar with a penalty that would surely have secured the desired result. As a spectacle it was superb entertainment and leaving aside the emotion that came with throwing away two precious points in the title race the truth is that there was so much to be happy about from this game.
Personally I don’t think we can draw too many conclusions from this result and indeed the manner in which it was achieved.
This defensive unit is just too different to bleat “same old Arsenal” after the first concession of a late equaliser and the mentality of players like Koscielny and Squillaci will take some time to be revealed. Indeed, our defensive performance as a unit was as good as I’ve seen from this team in the last three seasons. Just because a clean sheet was not secured does not take away one bit from the impressive efforts from Koscielny, Squillaci and Almunia. They were superb and I believe we have much to be optimistic about on the defensive front for the remainder of the season.
Likewise it can’t be concluded from this game that we struggle create anything without Cesc on the pitch. While this was undoubtedly true against Sunderland, it was more because replacing the captain impacted on the flow and organisation of the team. By the time Rosicky, Wilshere, Nasri and Co had adapted Song was sent for an early bath, Denilson replaced Andrey Arshavin and the reorganisation process began again.
Chamakh showed again what he brings to this team, chasing and harrassing defenders all afternoon. Whenever the ball came to his feet from midfield it stuck like glue: a vitally important attribute to have when you are a man down and want to give the midfielders time to get forward. Although he hardly had a sniff at goal himself his tireless and unselfish performance put him up there with Koscielny and Squillaci as our most valuable player.
On the less positive side of things, question marks will be asked of Gael Clichy’s defending in the second half. The Frenchman gave the ball away two or three times trying to play his way out of the back when a quick kick into touch would have been the better option, while his role in Sunderland’s equaliser – playing the strikers onside before hacking a clearance into Koscielny – wasn’t the stuff of a world-class defender.
So 1-1 it ended, probably a fair result at the end of the day even if the manner of Sunderland’s goal was a little hard to stomach. But that’s football.
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