Arsenal 3 – 1 Sunderland
0 – 1 Lens (17)
1 – 1 Campbell (26)
2 – 1 Ramsey (72)
3 – 1 Giroud (76)
When the two sides met in a month ago, goals from Campbell, Giroud and Ramsey claimed the points. The same trio ensured that Arsenal progressed to the FA Cup fourth round. Even gifting Sunderland the lead couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm which greeted some of the individual performances; even Jeff made a cameo. Smiles all round, culminating in Theo’s back-bumping celebration with a supporter.
Bruce Springsteen may have pulled Courtney Cox from the audience but the young man enjoyed his moment on the rain-sodden turf with the England international far more.
There weren’t when Laurel & Hardy reincarnated on the edge of Arsenal’s penalty area. Gibbs pass to Koscielny was poorly judged but the French international knows in those situations that any doubts should see the ball in Row Z. Instead, in trying to play his way out of trouble, he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet quickly enough and Lens finished past Cech.
Step forward the man who it is widely agreed, had his best match for Arsenal: Joel Campbell. Within ten minutes, he had lost his marker to find space near the penalty spot and guided Theo Walcott’s cross into the net. A goal capped his performance, with the warm applause that greeted his departure a genuine recognition of his afternoon’s work.
Arsène was quick to laud the Costa Rican as this season’s Francis Coquelin, performing better than anyone expected and having had a run in the side, playing with confidence. There’s a long way to go before that is the case and with players returning from injury, this may yet prove to be a load of flannel aimed at keeping his player happy and feeling the love.
Alex Iwobi has further to travel developmentally but thrust into the limelight yesterday, he seemed perfectly at ease with filling the sizeable hole left in Mesut Özil’s absence. His passing was crisp and he settled into the rhythm of the game. Perhaps it helped being a home game. It certainly helped that the team performance was altogether vastly improved from the miserable October night at Hillsborough.
The major change to the team came in central midfield, Chambers and Oxlade-Chamberlain came in and were a qualified success. No-one argues that Ox has been indifferent this season, capable of a mesmirising dribble as losing the ball leading to the punishment of a goal.
Yesterday was a better afternoon for the England international with his passing and movement more confident. He was denied by the woodwork as Arsenal chased the lead their increasing dominance deserved but is surely pleased with his overall contribution?
Chambers is learning his role and expecting him to control the midfield is unrealistic. As Arsenal grew into the game so did yesterday’s pairing. By the time Mikel Arteta arrived midway through the second half, Sunderland’s chippy counter-attacks were mostly neutered with the woodwork rattled by Fletcher’s header being their only real opening.
But when we needed someone to step forward, our superhero arrived. Hector Bellerin has his detractors but yesterday he showed the attacking aspect of his game is a vital attribute for the team. He’s not bad defensively either but two assists is the sort of return we seek from wide players not full backs. Two assists of genuine quality, embroidering the afternoon with the finest paces laced across the Sunderland back four; almost identikit in their delivery, they received the same end with the net bulging and Arsenal through.
Wenger didn’t deny that his form may see Mathieu Debuchy leave this transfer window. The manager couldn’t readily name a better right back in the Premier League – nor can I at this moment in time – but didn’t state outright that Bellerin is the best. “There is”, Wenger thought, “more to come” from the 20 year-old. Some aspects of his defensive game need working on but in attack yesterday, he was vibrant and lively, pivotal in breaking down what was beginning to become an obdurate Sunderland back four.
Allardyce thought the goals cheap to concede but that misses the exquisite exchange between Campbell and Bellerin to create the initial space for the cross for the opener. Minutes later and the Spaniard was tempted into attack with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s deft pass. He could hardly decline the opportunity to stretch his legs.
A comfortable win in the end, a less nervous and inconsistent performance than the league meeting between the two sides. That was something of a surprise given the number of changes Arsène made. To be honest, it was a surprise that Özil didn’t even feature on the bench; a very welcome one, I hasten to add but the manager normally likes an insurance policy in case the afternoon goes awry.
It was the opportunity for others to shine and I don’t think he will be disappointed in any of them. Jeff even came on to saté the appetite of the cult which has sprung up around him. All that was missing was the controversial refereeing decision, the dubious penalty award that are synonymous with these matches. It didn’t come but should have; referee Atkinson waved played on and wafted around whilst The Emirates and Olivier Giroud in particular, wondered how the hell a spot kick wasn’t being taken.
It didn’t matter in the end and we move on toward Wednesday night and Anfield.