Arsenal returned to the top of the Premiership table again after a thrilling 3-2 win over Sunderland at Emirates Stadium.
Robin van Persie got Arsenal off to a great start with a stunning free kick before Philippe Senderos made it 2-0 in the 14th minute. Arsenal should have been 3-0 up on 20 minutes when Abou Diaby fired home, but his effort was incorrectly ruled out for offside. Sunderland went into the break at 2-1 after Ross Wallace finished cleverly on 25 minutes and the away side then managed to pull level just after the break when Corwyn Jones headed home. Both sides threatened in the remaining half but was Arsenal who eventually prevailed when substitute Theo Walcott set up van Persie for his second on 80 minutes. You can see all the highlights here.
I watched this one back in Australia with a few mates at the pub and all I can say is, what a game. It looked like Sunderland were going to be absolutely blown away after 20 minutes but full credit has to go to the away side for putting up an outstanding effort to get back into the match. Apart from the goals, there were some real moments of quality from both side, and the fact that Arsenal also hit the frame of the goal twice shows that despite their good performance, the eventual scoreline flattered Sunderland. There was so many incidents in this game that it’s probably best just to read the match report here than listen to me rattle through all the key moments in the match.
For the first time in a few games, there were quite a few players who underperformed and Gael Clichy, Alexander Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor and Manuel Almunia will hope for an improvement the next time around. Clichy had a very poor game, bundled him aside by Wallace in the lead up to the first Sunderland goal before being nutmegged by Wallace’s shot. Hleb was creative at times but in my opinion went out of the game for too long. There must have been a period of 30 minutes where he did not get into the opposition penalty area, and I would not have been against substituting him at that point. To his credit he did fight back late in the game but overall I thought he was below-par.
As for the other two, Adebayor gave it his all but didn’t really threaten aside from an early header that was well saved by Craig Gordon. Almunia should have saved the second Sunderland goal and looked less confident in goals than I have seen so far this season. Maybe the recent comments of Jens Lehmann have intimidated him, but either way he will need to improve if he keeps his spot for the game against Bolton.
Walcott and van Persie the stars
Tellingly, there were enough players out on the pitch to do the job and the likes of van Persie and especially substitute Theo Walcott can hold their heads up high after some great attacking performances. Van Persie is often criticised for going missing in games and truth be told, it happened again against Sunderland, but such is the class of the guy that when he had his chances he absolutely took them. His free kick was unstoppable and every time he took aim I expected him to score. The class he showed in controlling and finishing Walcott’s pass for the winner was evident. That this is his third winner in the last three games is no coincidence, van Persie has always been and will always remain a player who steps up at vital moments.
Then there was Walcott. Wow. I didn’t see that coming. It was definitely the right move for Wenger to replace Diaby with Walcott but it is not an overstatement to say that the guy won the game for Arsenal. Van Persie may have been the one who stuck the ball in the net, but every time Walcott had the ball he upset the Sunderland defence with his pace and directness. In the end he was desperately unlucky not to score after scuffing from right in front and then hitting the base of the post after some glorious play. Unlike Arsene Wenger, I wasn’t expecting Walcott to make much impact this season, mainly due to his age and the seriousness of his recent injury. But if he can put in a few more performances like this of the substitutes bench then he will become a very valuable player for Arsenal as the season progresses.
At the end of the day, the Arsenal players will have learned a valuable lesson about complacency against Sunderland. There were too many flicks and backheels going on when the boys were 2-0 and Wenger will want to make sure he drills home his message about remaining humble and focused to the players. Without getting too critical, this was another good three points picked up and the club is back on the top of the table with a game in hand, and you can’t complain too much about that.
Just before I go, make sure you stay tuned for the Arsenal FC Blog eMagazine that I will be launching later today. I’ll also be announcing the winner of the recent Arseshirts competition I ran to name the eMagazine. All will be revealed soon!
What do you think?
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