Sunday, 19 August 2012

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland: An Opportunity Spurned

Arsenal played Sunderland yesterday afternoon in their first Premier League fixture of the new season. After the high profile departure of Robin van Persie it was an opportunity for the Arsenal players to show how good they can be without their former captain. Sunderland were always going to try to make things difficult for Arsenal, and it was up to Arsenal to open the game up.

I managed to find a pub on my holidays in Spain which was showing the game live, and I settled back with a few pints of Peroni to watch yet another new Arsenal era unfold. The other screens in the pub were showing West Ham against Aston Villa, and a botoxed looking Jeff Stelling on Sky Sports News.

Sunderland showed some adventure in the first 20 minutes, but their game plan soon became apparent. They were perfectly happy to settle for a 0-0 draw, and it was up to Arsenal to dictate the pace of the game. It was a hot afternoon in north London, and I hoped for Arsenal to stretch Sunderland and tire them out.

Fans of many different Premier League teams gathered in the pub to watch the afternoons proceedings, and there was even a Sunderland fan among them. He was wearing their away shirt with a number 40 and "Wozza" on the back, but he was in the minority. As the games progressed there were some fascinating scorelines emerging, but I was only interested in the Arsenal game.

I was impressed with the first half performances of Santi Carzola and Per Mertesacker in particular, but Arsenal needed to pick up the pace in the second half. Arsene Wenger chose to leave Oliver Giroud on the bench, as he played Lukas Podolski in the central striker's role. It meant there was a starting role for Gervinho, and he looked like he might be the Arsenal player to unlock the Sunderland defence.

There were a couple of half chances for Sunderland in the first 20 minutes, but Arsenal assumed complete control as the game wore on. When Giroud made his entrance in the second half I hoped he could get the opening goal which would probably have won the game for Arsenal.

He had a fantastic opportunity in the last 10 minutes when Carzola played him in, but unfortunately he put it wide. It was the ideal opportunity for Arsenal to show that they were still a force to be reckoned with after the departure of van Persie, but it wasn't to be. Better players have missed easier chances on numerous occasions, but I have no doubt the press focus will be on his miss.

There was no Alex Song in the Arsenal team, as it looks like he will be departing the club very soon. It meant Abu Diaby played in midfield, but he will have to do a lot more to convince me he is up to the task. Hopefully Arsenal can bring in Nuri Sahin on loan before Song leaves, as they will need his defensive abilities against better teams than Sunderland.

While a point from their first game is far from disastrous for Arsenal there is no doubt that three points were required on the day. The players were a little laboured in their approach at times, and the lack of proper pre season games showed in my opinion. Hopefully the coaching staff can get some good work in during the next week before they travel to Stoke.

Goals change games in football, and I have no doubt that an Arsenal goal at some stage yesterday would have opened the game up. Sunderland didn't have an awful lot to offer, but they stuck to their defensive duties very well. All too often last season Arsenal managed to win games like that through the brilliance of van Persie.

He is no more than a distant memory now of a player who could have been an Arsenal great. The team have to play more as a unit without him, and hope they can gel enough to get the results they need. There were some very encouraging signs against Sunderland, but only time will tell if they can do it.

There are still some very good players in the Arsenal team, and more to return from injury too. To write them off after a scoreless draw at home to Sunderland would be foolish, but I have no doubt the "so called" experts had them written off before the season started. It's up to the players and management to show they have what it takes to make a genuine challenge in the Premier League starting with next weeks daunting trip to Stoke's school of hard knocks.

I still have belief in the players, and I was encouraged by yesterday's game despite the result. There's a long way to go this season, and many twists and turns before the trophies are handed out. As long Arsenal stick to their principles they have a real chance of landing a trophy.

Finally for today don't forget to join my Fantasy Premier league for the new season with prizes for the top three teams. To join up just go to the site and use the code 17031-6252 to join my league when your team is set up. If you were in my league last season you should automatically be given a choice to rejoin it once your team is set up. There are over 400 teams in my league at the moment, and I'm hoping to match last season's total of over 1,000 teams.

I'm also running my predictions league again, and it's open to anyone who wants to join too. It's an easy game to play with points awarded for predicting the outcomes of every Premier League game. To sign up just go to the site , and use the code FD047-YLG to join my league once you have registered.

See you tomorrow.