Arsenal 0 – 0 Sunderland
Physically it was an intense game on Sunday from what we have analysed and we were a bit jaded tonight
If you knew that beforehand Arsène, why on earth were Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs the only changes from Sunday? The energy that Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott injected into the performance underlined that more were needed.
Arsenal had twenty-eight shots last night apparently. The various data providers will tell you down to the nth degree what happened to them but the scoreline reflects the only one that matters and zero means none of them counted. Not sure how those statistics reflect Billy Jones header onto his own post but frankly, as a supporter when you see that happen you know it isn’t going to be your night. I’m guessing the same thoughts probably went through a few of the players’ heads as well.
The post denied them, Pantilimon denied them, everything and everyone denied Arsenal their first home goal in three games. That Arsène’s post-match press conference turned to thoughts of the FA Cup final showed how little interest the evening’s ninety minutes held. Wenger is not overly concerned about the physical shape the players will be in,
We still have time to recover for Sunday and prepare well for the FA Cup final. What is important now is that we win on Sunday.
What’s really important is to freshen up the line-up. Barring the most catastrophic of afternoon’s, including an eight-goal swing against Arsenal, third place was secured with that point last night and the summer planning will be a little easier knowing that Champions League football is achieved. Which leaves Arsenal with the opportunity to shake it up for the visit of West Brom.
With Danny Welbeck not having a fitness test until the weekend, will Arsène give Chuba Akpom a start, to rest Olivier Giroud? Perhaps Welbeck is closer to fitness than we think and this is all part of Arsène’s masterplan. It seems improbable given the manager did not seem very confident over the England striker’s fitness. The French striker is off-form which is exactly what you don’t need going into a cup final but with no-one to put pressure on him for his starting line-up spot, it’s inevitable that he will unwind at some point.
Failing that, surely Theo Walcott will be given a ninety-minute run out? It’s an interesting negotiating tactic at his contract talks, that’s for certain. It’s a hard sell to convince a player that he’s a genuine part of your plans when he can’t even start in a match against a relegation-threatened opponent, for a team that is aching for his wing play.
Still, at least Arsène is listening to us and ended the tortuous experiment of putting Aaron Ramsey on the right wing. OK, not many expected Jack Wilshere to replace him on the flank but I understand that Wenger likes to use a ‘false winger’ in midfield. And there are games when that tactic works well but against banks of defenders, it seems that stretching the play and getting wide men behind the back nine is quite an effective tactic. Last night was one of those games when it might well have been worth a try, especially as everyone is finding it rather easy to defend against Arsenal when they line up in the usual fashion.
On the positive side, we kept a clean sheet and when you don’t concede, you can’t lose. There’s a balance between not conceding and not scoring that is eluding us at the moment but I’m sure that will come. I am and in no way should me repeating that point be interpreted as trying to convince myself that things will turn out OK. No…
By this stage, you’re wondering where the match analysis is. Where’s the talk about the eight shots on target? Or was it nine, I’m not sure about Jones’ header; does it count? Does it matter? It does to me, I’m still not sure having thought about since I mentioned the closest Arsenal came to scoring earlier in the post. But Advocaat and his players deserve credit for the discipline in their defending. Had Fletcher’s finishing not stooped to Giroud’s level, they might have celebrated a victory. It’s surprising they aren’t to be honest; Arsenal had that kind of evening.
The whole performance was a bit lacklustre. Cazorla’s passes lacked their usual zip, Özil’s zing was missing its’ thing and Alexis looked knackered. Add in Giroud and the attacking quartet looked like their minds were elsewhere. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. They don’t need to worry about Wembley, they all know they will start barring injury.
There’s no pressure on their performance and just as Chelsea have stumbled over the finish line, Arsenal are doing likewise knowing that second was unlikely and after the point at Old Trafford, United were even less likely to catch them. It’s all petering out and ahead of a cup final, a disturbing trend given that you need the players focussed and intense.
It’s necessary to be a little disingenuous with the media as a football manager and you don’t always take Arsène’s words at face value but it would be a major surprise if he didn’t make changes for Sunday. I know he seemed undecided in front of the press but if he answered ‘Yes’ to that question, the next one would have been, ‘Who’. He might as well email Tony Pulis the teamsheet at that point, along with a full explanation of how the tactics will be applied. You can pretty much guarantee that Albion will line up the same as Sunderland and work equally as hard. Will Arsène throw them out of kilter by changing the team?
So much store was set by the unbeaten run that hauled Arsenal into the top three. I understand why but holding that as a potential reason for fatigue now is a bizarre angle to pursue. Even Arsène seemed thrown by that but if he likes it, the next press conference will surely find it thrown out there with total conviction.
I could have posted a far shorter piece today. In fact, I nearly did. All it said was, “If you thought United was a bore draw, God knows what you made of last night”. I may yet save that one for Sunday.