Monday, 16 September 2013

Aaron Ramsey Shines Again As Arsenal Beat Sunderland

It was back to Premier League football for Arsenal on Saturday after a couple of weeks of international football. The team had responded impressively to their opening day defeat to Villa by winning four games in a row and I was a little worried the two week break might affect their momentum. It's never easy to get a result at Sunderland but hopes were high for Arsenal with their new €50 million player set to make his debut.

The team news was a little worrying with Santi Cazorla out through injury and Per Mertesacker unavailable through illness. They were added to a long list of players who were already unavailable with the return of Thomas Vermaelen to the bench as the only positive injury news. Even new boy Mesut Ozil wasn't a certainty before the game as he had the same illness as Mertesacker but managed to recover in time.

I thought Ozil would have started on the bench but he was called into action from the start as the injury crisis and lack of squad depth meant there was no other choice. The Arsenal bench looked a little short of experience for the same reasons with only Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal having real experience at the highest level. Despite those problems the Arsenal team still had plenty of strength in it and looked more than capable of taking all three points.

Arsenal took control of the game from a very early stage and played some beautiful flowing football which caused Sunderland some real problems. The first goal came after only 11 minutes and Ozil's part in it showed why Arsene Wenger was prepared to smash the club's transfer record to get him. He took down a long pass with one touch and played it into the path of Olivier Giroud to sweep it home at the near post.

Sunderland rallied for a few minutes and came close when they hit the bar with a header from a set piece, but Arsenal were soon on the front foot again. With Ozil pulling the strings in midfield they cut Sunderland open at will and should have added another three or four goals before the break. Theo Walcott was the main culprit as he found space to run on to Ozil's through balls but couldn't beat Westwood in the Sunderland goal.

I was a little worried at half time because Arsenal have paid a price in the past for failing to finish off teams they were completely dominating. My worst fears were soon realised when Sunderland were awarded a penalty soon after the restart. Laurent Koscielny was adjudged to have taken Adam Johnson down when there was no need for him to even make the tackle.

It was similar to the penalty he gave away against Villa on the opening day and again he didn't have to make that challenge. I'm not sure it was a penalty but if Koscielny had stayed on his feet and shepherded the player there was every chance nothing would have come from it in either game. Craig Gardner stepped up to put the penalty away and the game had a completely different complexion to it.

Sunderland sensed they had a chance of getting a win and went at Arsenal. I was very worried at that stage and it looked like the next goal was going to be decisive. Sunderland came close on a couple of occasions but thankfully Arsenal managed to take control of the game again and got on top.

Midway through the half they retook the lead and it was a fantastic goal from Aaron Ramsey. Carl Jenkinson picked him out with a great ball from the right and Ramsey's first time volley was lashed home. It was a goal he richly deserved as he looked like the best player on the field even with Ozil playing.

After the first goal Sunderland came back into the game briefly and so it was again, but thankfully fortune favoured Arsenal on this occasion. Jozy Altidore tussled on the edge of the Arsenal box with Bacary Sagna and the referee blew for a free just as Altidore shook off Sagna's attention. He continued on and eventually put the ball in the net, but the play had to be called back. 

I think Koscielny would have cleared the ball before it crossed the line but he stopped briefly when the whistle blew. Sunderland weren't happy with the referee and they had every right to feel aggrieved as he should have given Altidore the advantage and then blown if nothing came of it. They weren't too happy either when Sagna only got a yellow card and it could quite easily have been a red for him.

After their narrow escape Arsenal soon finished the game off as a contest when Ramsey got his second goal of the game on 76 minutes. He finished off a flowing move involving himself, Ozil and Giroud by slipping the ball through the legs of the keeper to make it 3-1. From there on the game was as good as over and it was Arsenal who came closest to scoring again. 

Ozil departed with 10 minutes left to be replaced by Vermaelen who made his first appearance of the season after his most recent injury. Both Monreal and Chuba Akpom came on in the dying moments to replace Walcott and Giroud who had gone down with a knock as he tried to make it 4-1. Thankfully Giroud will be alright to face Marseille on Wednesday night, but it shows how the lack of depth could have a severely adverse effect on the team's chances.

It was fantastic to see exactly how good Ozil is and he fitted in with the team very well for a player who had only trained with his team mates for a couple of days. The alternatives in Arsenal's midfield are almost frightening and they managed to play some brilliant football despite missing Cazorla, Mikael Arteta and Tomas Rosicky. The performance of Ramsey was outstanding yet again and he has to be the first name on the team sheet for every game.

Of course Ramsey is bound to be rested occasionally but he has shown towards the end of last season and at the start of this season that he has eventually put the horrific injury of three and a half years ago behind him. That injury probably set him back a minimum of two years in his progress but he is still only 22 years old and will get even better over the next few years. He has discovered his scoring touch as well and has already scored five goals in his six games this season.

I'm still not sure if Arsenal can truly challenge for the league because of the lack of depth in some positions, but they have some incredible quality in midfield. Their fate could be decided by their games against the best clubs and they need to do a lot better in those games this season. They have already beaten Spurs and if they can continue to keep pace near the top of the table we might get an idea of their chances in November when they play both Liverpool and United back to back. 

There's a lot of football to play before then though and hopefully a lot of players to come back from injury and strengthen the team too. The life of an Arsenal fan can be tough sometimes but the team are playing some very good football at the moment and helping the fans to believe the good times might just be on the way back. There are certainly some issues with the defence at the moment but as an attacking force Arsenal look to be in commanding form.

Koscielny needs to find the form he showed when he commanded the defence towards the end of last season and to stop making stupid tackles in the box. His decision making isn't great at the moment but hopefully it's something that can be worked on in training and corrected. The return from injury of Vermaelen might just be what he needs to help him concentrate on his game just a little better.

I'm feeling very positive about the season at the moment, but previous experience has taught me how quickly that can change. If the team can continue their current momentum it could make for a very good season.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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