After Chelsea spawned their way to a late, late win over Everton in the early kick off yesterday, the pressure was really on us to take three points against Sunderland.
After the midweek disappointment, recent indifferent form and with a number of changes to the team – including no Mesut Ozil in the 18 because of a ‘thigh injury’ – could we respond? The answer was emphatically yes, yes we could.
It’s amazing what an early goal can do, and the fact that Olivier Giroud’s 5th minute strike was the first first-half goal we’ve scored at home since December 4th (Bendnter v Hull) tells its own story. The goal itself was beautifully worked with the ball moving through midfield, before Wilshere took a pass from Rosicky, drew the defenders then squared it for the Frenchman to side-foot home from inside the box.
Just the start he needed after the last week and the same goes for the team. Sunderland looked to have more than half an eye on the cup final and they sat off for most of the first half which suited us down to the ground. Podolski tested Mannone with a thunderous drive, but the benefit of having Tomas Rosicky in the team was apparent in Arsenal’s second.
It came from Sunderland possession. Arsenal pressed and they played it back to Mannone. He played it wide, Rosicky and Podolski pressed and forced Vergini to play it back to the keeper but the Sunderland player had failed to notice Giroud who ran onto it and finished between the keeper’s legs to make it 2-0. All it took was a little bit of pressure high up the pitch and Sunderland cracked.
Then came the third. If you thought Wilshere’s goal against Norwich was going to be a one-off then this one proved you wrong. In fairness, we’ve been trying to replicate consistently throughout the season but such is precision and timing needed that most often it doesn’t come off. Yesterday it did.
It began with Koscielny winning a header at back. Monreal nodded it to Arteta who fed Cazorla in the centre circle. He gave it to Wilshere who drove down the right hand side and passed it to Rosicky. He cut inside, played it to Cazorla who had kept moving forward and the Spaniard’s first time pass found Wilshere who laid it off to Rosicky. The Czech touched it to Giroud who flicked it behind the defence and as Mannone came out to close him down, Rosicky just dinked it over him and into the goal.
It was a thing of real beauty. Words don’t do it justice – just watch it. And then watch it again and again. Find a HD download, buy an iPad just to use it as a picture frame, then hang that goal on your wall forever. It was, as Rosicky cheekily described afterwards, ‘a typical Arsenal goal’. And he does have a point, how many other teams score goals like this?
Sunderland made two half-time changes and immediately looked brighter. I suspect they might have been given something of a talking to by their manager who might have said cup final places were in jeopardy if they kept playing like that, but after some pressure it was Arsenal who scored again. Laurent Koscielny had nobody anywhere near him from a Cazorla corner and had the easy task of planting a firm header into the net to make it 4-0.
He went off shortly afterwards, replaced by Flamini which meant Bacary Sagna, already shifted over to left back after Jenkinson had replaced Monreal at the break, moved to centre-half. Another sub, Sergre Gnabry probably should made it 5-0 but slipped just as he took the chance created for him by Jack Wilshere, before Sunderland got themselves a late consolation.
Wojciech Szczesny’s punch was good, it has to be said, he got plenty of distance on it, but Giaccherini’s shot from 30 yards flew into the bottom corner – if he could repeat that a few times against Man City next weekend that’d be something I’d be very keen to see.
In the end it was comfortable and professional from Arsenal. The kind of win you want from a home game like this, and afterwards Arsene Wenger said:
We had a very demanding week physically and mentally and we gave the right response today. We did the job in the first half and we scored two great ‘Arsenal’ goals. We have shown today we are capable of responding and that is the most important thing. You see City had a difficult game, Chelsea had a difficult game so you see it is difficult for all the teams at the top, but we did the job well.
Yesterday I suggested that Giroud owed the manager a performance and he certainly gave him one. Two goals plus an assist which highlighted how well he does fit into the team when those around work off him better. Rosicky made the run behind the striker and Giroud’s flicks and one-touch passes have been the basis for quite a number of our goals this season.
That makes for 15 goals and 8 assists in all competitions so far for Giroud, and when you consider there are forwards at other clubs who have cost more (a lot more in some cases), who still can’t score from open play, the stick he gets is more than a little unfair. He’s scored more than Premier League goals than van Persie, Rooney or the much lauded Negredo, so those who write him off as ‘useless’ are unwilling to see what he does bring to the team.
Now he’s got to add some goals against the likes of Chelsea and Man City as we head into DeathRun II©® – but even if you think we can improve our striking options in the summer, I think it’s clear that from the players we’ve got right now, Giroud is our best option up front and should be playing as often as possible.
As for Rosicky, he’s at an age where he has to be used somewhat sparingly, but his relentless positivity on the ball, and when we don’t have it, is something that few others in this team can replicate. You can only hope that youngsters like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry are using this time alongside him well, because he’s the blueprint they should be following.
The slight worry from the game are the injuries picked up. Koscielny (back) and Monreal (ankle) left us with a central-midfielder at left back and a right back at centre-half (via left-back). Although Vermaelen is due back sooner rather than later after a calf strain, it still feels like it wouldn’t take much for us to end up significantly weakened at the back. The manager said both players should be all right for next week, so fingers crossed in that regard.
Overall though, you couldn’t ask for much more than what we got yesterday. We now have a week to recharge and recuperate before a trip to Mordor to face Stoke.