Not a brilliant game to watch by any means but a very welcome three points nonetheless. All the goals came in the first half. The first was an own goal by Sunderland’s Danny Collins as headed home an Henry free kick under pressure from Abou Diaby.
Cesc Fabregas got the second, dinking home beautifully after being put through by Thierry Henry and it was the captain who got the third with a free kick. It looked like it might have been bad keeping but the replays showed the keeper was in the middle of his goal but the ball went so low over the wall and was so precisely placed into the corner that he just had no chance.
The second half wasn’t up to much really, they played with a bit more spirit with former Gunner Niall Quinn looking on. He’s in charge of consortium ready to buy the club but I’d rather spend my money on slot machines and heroin than buy that shower. They had one good chance when Le Tallec crossed for Kevin Kyle who drew a brilliant save from Jens. I’ll come back to that chance in a minute. We had chances when van Persie was put through by Bergkamp but his right foot is nowhere near as deadly as his left and an Henry shot hit the keeper, hit the post then back into the keeper’s arms.
Ashley Cole made his comeback on 66 minutes playing on the left hand side of midfield but he didn’t get involved too much and the only dark cloud on the day was the shocking challenge on Abou Diaby with just moments to go. How the Sunderland player didn’t get a red card is beyond me and afterwards an obviously upset Arsene Wenger said:
The injury looks very serious. It is frustrating and unacceptable because the player had no intention of going for the ball in my opinion. I’m sorry for Diaby who worked so hard to come back and to get such a bad injury when he wants to be a part of the team. I’m not even thinking of the victory, I’m just very, very down.
Thierry Henry was also critical of Sunderland’s approach, saying:
The only thing, the Sunderland players wanted to do was kick people. We can play football or we can play something else but some of the tackles I saw in the second half, one on Cesc was clearly not for the ball.
It was a very bad challenge and Diaby, it was confirmed last night, has broken his ankle – dislocated as well as fractured – and will be out for at least 4 or 5 months. This is the kind of thing that the FA needs to be concentrating on getting rid of, not stupid bookings like players taking their shirts off or back-chat to officials. I know the rules say that if the ref sees it no further action can be taken but it’s a fucking stupid rule. If the ref doesn’t realise how serious something is he, or a video panel, should be able to upgrade the card to a red. Smith deserved a red card and deserves a lengthy ban but it won’t happen. The sooner football sorts out its priorities the better. They either downgrade petty offences or they upgrade dangerous, malicious play designed to injure a player.
It’s also worth pointing out that in circumstances like this Sky TV could do a lot more. Alan Smith was almost dismissive of the incident, saying “These things always look worse in slow motion” but that tackle was horrific in real time. They could do a lot better in highlighting shocking challenges like that than replaying nothing incidents time and time again in order to create headlines and we’ve come not to expect Alan Smith to show any Arsenal colours but he was as limp as any pundit I’ve ever seen last night. If a guy makes a horrible tackle which is nowhere near the ball and badly injures his opponent just fucking say it, you cunt. In the meantime I suppose we just thank Diaby for his efforts since January and wish him the best and speediest of recoveries.
Overall we did enough to win the game without ever clicking into top gear. Or two gears below that. In fact, Sunderland are so bad they we stayed in second gear the whole game and given the performances of one or two players it’s a good job they’re as bad as they are. We might miss Robert Pires’ experience if he goes this summer but we won’t miss his lack of fight or energy or commitment in the challenge. He was very poor as was Alex Song. I’ve said before I believe he’s hopelessly out of his depth at this level and nothing I saw yesterday changes that. It strikes me that his greatest skill is passing to a player in plenty of room but managing to put him under pressure all the same. Not good enough and he can go back to Bastia at the end of the season. It’s good that Clichy and Cole are back because this means that Flamini can now cover midfield in Diaby’s absence.
He wasn’t the worst though because we have to talk about Sol Campbell. I’ve had emails from people who think I’ve been too harsh on him since his West Ham walkout. That’s fair enough. Some people are more forgiving than me and we all have our opinions. What I think all of us can agree on is that Campbell as a footballer is struggling really badly. He was atrocious yesterday. He was hesitant, he missed headers, he let balls bounce when they should have been cleared first time, he let very average players run rings around him at times – especially for the chance that Kyle had – and the thoughts of him playing against Eto’o, Ronaldinho and possibly Messi makes my stomach churn.
He might be rusty but he’s not getting less rusty as the games go on. Against Villarreal he wasn’t good but then nobody was and it was his first full game back. Today should have been a breeze for him though, playing against players who shouldn’t really give him a hard time but he made 1-goal-all-season Kevin Kyle look good. He’s is obviously overweight, too slow, he played them onside more than once and at this point he’s a liability. He is unable to perform basic defensive duties. He might be back but his mind certainly is not because errors like that can be avoided though concentration. If he can’t even concentrate against a team as poor as Sunderland what does that say about his motivation or ability to play in an important game?
I’d play Djourou ahead of him in the absence of Senderos. One thing to note when Senderos plays is how much ball we win in the air from crosses, corners etc. With Campbell in the team we don’t win those balls, look much less assured and we defend too deep. I should say he defends too deep and pulls everyone back with him. With such an inexperienced midfield – 3 teenagers and bloke who couldn’t care less – you need to defend higher up the pitch to take the pressure off them. Campbell couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do that. Yes he’s a been a good servant but his time has passed if that’s the best he can come up with and I won’t be sorry to see him go.
The good news is that Philippe Senderos might be closer to returning than we thought. According to the injury list on Arsenal.com he could be back for Thursday’s games against Manchester City and not too soon either.