Sunderland 1 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Giroud (11)
1 – 1 Gardner (48 pen)
1 – 2 Ramsey (67)
1 – 3 Ramsey (76)
Sent himself off: di Canio
If that is how he plays when he is ill, may God have mercy on the souls of the rest the Premier League because Mesut Özil won’t. Early season it may be, the opposition may not have been that good or had an over-inflated sense of their own worth but beating those in different coloured shirts is all Arsenal can do and since the opening day reverse against Aston Villa, that is exactly what they have done. Getting carried away is something both extremes of the Arsenal support is equally capable of.
Later on, I’ll look in detail at the German’s début but the match was overshadowed by Martin Atkinson’s decision to disallow Jose Altidore’s effort with the hosts trailing by the odd goal in three. Early analysis tried to position the incident as a referee over-ruling technology; nothing of the sort with Atkinson bringing back play having adjudged Bacary Sagna guilty of foul play. Given the fate which befell Antony Taylor following his indiscretion on the opening day, it is little wonder that Atkinson pulled play back with permitting any advantage. Even so, he may yet suffer the same indignity as Taylor for in identifying Sagna’s indiscretion, the referee has a difficult story to tell in his reasoning for allowing Sagna to continue. Some will see this as another example of footballing karma, others will point to the inadequacies of officials without considering that the opinions formed on the matter are with the benefit of hindsight and not in the thick of the action. Those who seek perfection without the benefit of technology need to reflect more on the flawed position adopted in their stance.
As it is, the incident was a sideshow. Arsenal dominated possession, had three times more shots on targets and were by any measure, the better side on the afternoon. Even so, profligacy in front of goal was almost their undoing with Sunderland squandering decent opportunities when the two sides were level or when there was no more than a goal in it, the woodwork proved a durable defender when Diakite’s header crashed against the crossbar soon after Olivier Giroud’s opener.
That goal had been on the cards from kick-off. Arsenal were quickly out of the blocks and into their stride with Özil betraying any sense of nerves by demanding – and receiving – the ball constantly. That endeavour was rewarded in the eleventh minute when he squared the ball into the path of Giroud, who applied what is fast becoming a trademark finish. With the news that Santi Cazorla is unlikely to feature before the next international break, Özil’s comfort in an Arsenal shirt provides a certain reassurance. Fortunately, midfield is one area where the squad is not short of numbers. Even so, the frequency of problems this season raises the prospect of as good a line-up being sidelined as is available to the manager.
As Sunderland sought to find the equaliser, Özil could have been forgiven for wishing that Aaron Ramsey had been on the end on his brace of defence-splitting passes; instead it was Theo Walcott. Was he profligate or unlucky that Westwood blocked twice with his defensive cohorts providing the clearing touches. Whatever the case, Edward Woodward would have shied away from trying to fathom how Walcott missed his header as the half-time whistle approached; no matter how many times you watch that particular opportunity, the miss does not become any easier.
Three minutes into the second half and life momentarily unravelled for the visitors. Koscielny continued his early season travails, clumsily challenging Johnson allowing Gardner to send Szczesny the wrong way from the resultant penalty. It is a theme of the Frenchman’s Arsenal career that early season errors dog his performances, be they red cards, slack marking or own goals. That failing is something he will no doubt be wanting to eradicate from his game, that he needs to eradicate as it compounds the impression of slack defending by the team. It could be that he missed Mertesacker’s calming influence yesterday – not the German was much help in that sense on the opening day – but there were few genuine protests about Martin Atkinson’s decision. Two quickfire disallowed goals gave Sunderland the momentum that led to Altidore and Sagna tangling on the edge of the area. But once that free kick had been skied, Arsenal regained their composure and took total control of the game with Aaron Ramsey playing the pivotal role; Real Madrid may have bought the wrong Welshman.
Ramsey restored Arsenal’s lead with a cracking volley from Jenkinson’s cross, doubled his personal tally for the afternoon when he lifted the ball beyond Westwood following good Giroud’s deft flick into the path of his run. The points were safe, ensconced in the bus waiting to travel home to north London, putting Arsenal top of the table if only for 48 hours.
It was a hit-and-miss performance in truth. Öutstanding in places during the first half but the misshapen defence had moments, which is to be expected. The return of Thomas Vermaelen may resolve that problem yet he has his own form to rediscover; maybe it is there, maybe not. Injuries reared a worrying head when Giroud appeared to twist his knee; the thinness of the squad in certain areas cannot be disguised or disputed and the sense remains that we are beholden to the injury gods in certain respects.
Reflecting on yesterday’s game, it doesn’t matter. Indeed, with the squad being unalterable until January, there is questionable value in bemoaning how the summer did not follow the plan laid by the club in that respect. We simply get on with it until such times as the outcome can be altered. Reports this morning put a £30m bid on Manchester United’s table in the New Year for the services of Wayne Rooney’s headband. We’ll add an extra £2 for the player, there being more of the Liverpudlian than Suarez. With due deference to the champions of course. Stories such as this one will not go away until the issue is addressed.
But it took the shine off another excellent performance by Ramsey. His workrate is outstanding and revelling in more freedom, pushing forward with more purpose and confidence, he is picking his just rewards to the extent that it is assumed he will remain in the side when all are fit once more. How fortunes change in twelve months.
I know, I’ve been putting it off but here we go, Mesut Özil Watch