Yesterday was an absolutely fantastic day for me, as I made a trip to the Emirates stadium to see Arsenal play along with some fellow Arsenal fans. It was a tough schedule for us, as I was up at 4.30AM and I got home 20 hours later at 12.30AM on Sunday. A good night's sleep was called for on Saturday, but when some relatives arrived unannounced that plan went out the window and I ended up getting only three hours sleep.
It made for a very tiring day, but I wouldn't have swapped it for anything in the world. It was perfectly described elsewhere, and as a result there's no need for me to go through the details here. I will say though, that I'm really looking forward to the next installment, but I might stay overnight the next time.
All that's left for me is to describe the events that took at Arsenal yesterday, and I'll do my best to put my own slant on them. There is always a different perspective to a game when it is viewed from the stands rather than the television.
One of the main points I saw yesterday was the lack of movement off the ball by Arsenal players when they were attacking. It meant there were very few options from Arsenal players in possession, and as a result the ball was played across the defence far too often. There was a lack of variation to the Arsenal team which was very revealing at times.
The team was crying out for a player to take on the Sunderland defence and make things happen, and that player arrived for the final quarter. Andrey Arshavin may have been very slow to make his way back and help out the defence at times, but he showed the way to open up Sunderland. I had wanted to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain make an appearance at some stage, but Arshavin showed that he still has some magic in his boots.
Arsenal took the lead after less than a minute when Robin Van Persie finished very well with his right foot after a pass from Gervinho. For the next 15 minute Arsenall looked likely to stretch their lead, but when the second goal didn't arrive the intensity dropped off eventually. During that spell RVP hit the post with a sublime right footed chip from inside the box, and it would have been truly spectacular if it went in.
Gradually Sunderland worked their way back into the game and equalised from an excellent Seb Larsson free kick. I had told some of the people I traveled with that I thought he was the biggest threat from a free kick, and so it proved to be. The confidence was drained from the Arsenal team after that goal and Sunderland almost took the lead, but a magnificent Wojciech Szczesny save denied Lee Cattermole.
In the second half Arsenal gradually ground Sunderland down, but it didn't really look like they were going to score. They had four free kicks from good positions just outside the box, but Andre Santos, Mikael Arteta and Theo Walcott made a mess of the first three of them. The next one was lined up by RVP on the right hand side with only eight minutes left.
He hadn't scored a free kick in so long that I had forgotten how good he used to be at them. However, this time he placed the ball right in the corner and to the delight of the Arsenal fans it went in for a change. RVP celebrated as if he had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup final, and the Arsenal fans joined in.
He received a yellow card for taking his shirt off in his celebration, but I'm sure he will feel it was worth the punishment. He played a captain's role throughout the game, and almost single-handedly led his team over the finishing line.
Arsenal have stumbled so far this season, but the three points were vitally important against Sunderland. Next Sunday's Premier League game at home to Stoke City won't be as easy though, as they put up a different type of challenge. Before that there's a trip to Marseille in the Champions League on Wednesday night, as Arsenal continue to play two games every week between international breaks.
There were some other positives to be taken from yesterday's victory besides the role played by RVP. I thought the performances of both Santos and Arshavin were very good when they came on as subs, and Tomas Rosicky kept trying to make things happen in midfield. The lack of movement ahead of him at times made it difficult for him, but he never gave up during the 77 minutes that he played.
Alex Song was excellent defensively, but his passing was far from it's best going forward. He covered in front of Santos in the second half when Arshavin decided he didn't actually need to fulfill the defensive part of his game. Yossi Benayoun was also lively when he came on, and I feel he might have a lot to offer for the rest of the season.
Per Mertesacker looked composed most of the time in defence, and he looked good on the ball when he came forward a little. Laurent Koscielny made a reasonable return to the team, but he has to learn that he can't always nip in ahead of his man to win the ball. Carl Jenkinson looked suspect defensively in the first half, and was caught in possession but he had a much better second half.
Szczesny made a great save to deny Cattermole, but he also made a bad error which he was lucky not to give away a goal from. That's two bad errors in two games, and he needs to up his concentration levels before they become a problem. He is a huge talent and I think he will be Arsenal's goalkeeper for years to come, but he cannot allow these mistakes to creep into his game.
Arteta is a good player, but he's no Cesc Fabregas. He was brought in to play in midfield just after Cesc was sold, but he isn't a similar type of player. His game is based around keeping things going in midfield and he plays an awful lot of square and backwards passes too.
I think he will become more creative in time, but in my opinion Arsenal still need to sign a top class creative midfielder in the January transfer window.
The lack of movement by both Walcott and Gervinho was very telling at times, and I thought they both had poor games. Arsene Wenger has plenty of other options in the wide roles, and I think he needs to utilise some of those options in the Premier League. Arshavin, Benayoun, Chamberlain and Ryo Myiacihi are all capable of playing those wide roles, and they should be given achance if others aren't performing.
I think Walcott and Gervinho struggle a little at times against teams that drop back and defend deep, and Sunderland certainly did that yesterday. At times Sunderland were very cynical in their tackling, as they took Arsenal players down as soon as they looked any way dangerous. Maybe players who are better at taking opponents on in a one-on-one situation would do better against deeper lying teams.
I'm not sure what the extent of the injury to Kieran Gibbs is, but I think Santos showed enough yesterday to suggest that he might make the left back slot his own. Gibbs had an alright game in the first half, but he did get absolutely skinned at one stage which was a little worrying. I thought Santos was going to be very much an attacking full back, but he showed that he knows plenty about the defensive side of the game too.
There are some very interesting times ahead for Arsenal, and there's no way of knowing for sure which way they will go. Their European results have held up very well so far, and the back to back games against Marseille could possibly decide their Champions League fate this season. Until Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere return the team is still going to struggle at times, but it's certainly not all doom and gloom.
All in all I had a fantastic trip, and I can't wait to go again.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from Arsenal's win over Sunderland.
See You Tomorrow.