Sagna and Wilshere overcome Sunderland and Taylor

I had a professor once tell me that his secret to grad school was to read the first and last paragraph of every chapter and if it was a chapter he thought was particularly important, he would read the first and last sentence of each paragraph in the chapter. It was the only way that he could handle the rigors of all the required readings while also maintaining a high alcohol to blood ratio. So if you’re in grad school, go ahead and skip to the last paragraph.

Now that those bores are gone off to let their hair down in their ivory towers, the rest of us can talk about a few things. First, let’s talk for a second about Bacary Sagna and Wojciech Szczesny.

There was a moment in the 85th minute where I thought, “by moving Sagna to center half, the good news is that Arsenal have the Sagna of old back, the bad news is that now Arsenal have a right back crisis.”

We’ve known it now for several years, Arsenal’s fullbacks have incredible demands put on them. They have to be one of the best passers on Arsenal, a team which already demands a high level and rate of passing, because they provide the only width on a team in which three center mids make vertical runs all day. And precisely because of that attacking system which turns players like Sagna and Gibbs into a fifth midfielder the Arsenal fullbacks are often pushed well up the field and subsequently exposed to runs behind and all other manner of problems.

A lot of folks were wringing their hands about “Sagna’s form” this season and tweeting about how they “wouldn’t shed a tear” if Sagna were to leave this Summer. That level of unwarranted vitriol kicked into overdrive when he gave an interview to the French press this week talking about Arsenal’s lack of positional discipline with his detractors calling it ironic that he would talk about positioning when he was the one caught out so often. Some folks went so far as to say that it looked like he didn’t care.

The reality is that the performance you saw from Sagna yesterday is the same type of warrior-like, full-blooded, steely game that he has been giving pretty much his entire Arsenal career. Moreover, he is hands down Arsenal’s best defender and has been for a number of years. He’s better in the air (at a mere 5’8″) than the 6’4″ Per Mertesacker and is one of the few players at Arsenal who actually knows how (and when!) to make a tackle.

Arsenal have made a number of defensive errors this season and Sagna has been one of the players who contributed to that ignominious record. I was one of the people who tipped Carl Jenkinson to take over for Sagna I have to admit that I was wrong on that account. I like Jenkinson, but almost as soon as Sagna returned you could see that Jenkinson still had much to learn. And on yesterday’s performances, with Sagna winning many plaudits and Carl seeing red, the gulf between them is stretched to a chasm. Sagna going to PSG would be a huge loss for Arsenal this summer.

Meanwhile, Szczesny is getting a lot of credit for making a couple of decent saves in the game but apart from a few good moments I felt like he was, overall, very shaky. One of the things that everyone praised Szcz for over the last two years was his “command of the area” but over the last few matches, Szczesny has looked anything but commanding.

Stoke’s “Hail Mary” offense is scary for the best of keepers and for one as young as Szczesny, who is exposed by a center back pairing that can’t win headers, Stoke is a daunting opponent indeed. Still, his attempted claims against Stoke made him look weak and ineffectual.

Against Sunderland he continued this recent form of flapping at high claims and I felt put undue pressure on his defense. Pressure that the defense didn’t need because Sunderland aren’t that much of a threat from the air. I don’t hate the kid or want to see him fired but it makes me wonder if there isn’t something physically wrong with Szczesny.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Szczesny is playing with a knock, I think Wenger is taking more and more chances with his players as the squad looks increasingly thinner. What, exactly, is happening with Arsenal’s squad is the mystery of the season. Djourou is loaned out at just the worst time of the season and now Santos has been send to Gremio for a year leaving Arsenal with a rather threadbare defensive unit.

I called for Wilshere to be rested before kickoff and judging by the fact that he was removed for an “injury” I don’t think that was a bad shout. Wenger admitted before the game that he is worried about Wilshere playing too much. He said something similar before Wilshere was injured two years ago.

Despite the injury scare, Wilshere was pivotal to Arsenal beating Sunderland yesterday. Not only did he record the “pre-assist” but he was a focal point for the Sunderland defense who were forced to close down on Jack all day. That opened space for his teammates. Cazorla, in fact, needs Jack next to him, the two make an excellent midfield pairing. I wonder if Cazorla wouldn’t have had his man-of-the-match performance if he had been the target of the Sunderland studs rather than Jack.


The difference between Jack’s pulsing forward play and the ball dawdling of Diaby is night and day. The second that Wilshere was off the pitch Arsenal stopped controlling possession and struggled going forward. So, I “get it’ that Wenger needs to use him so much. But yesterday’s match against Sunderland should be seen as a huge warning to the club; Jack can’t do it alone. He needs Arsenal to spend some of the money sitting in the bank to put players around Jack that can take some of the load off. I’m not worried as much about burnout this season, I’m worried about a Cesc-like burnout from the club and the club’s parsimonious policies.

Which brings me to my last point for the day: the League has a real problem with the referees. I have never seen a player as tough as Jack Wilshere. He is the kind of guy who likes to keep the ball, like all creative players he loves the ball. Those kinds of players are normally targeted by the players who hate creativity, the Lee Cattermoles of the world. The destroyers. But the kicking that Wilshere takes rises to a level I’m not sure I’ve seen before.

Wilshere is not just constantly targeted, he’s constantly targeted with obscene tackles like the one that Titus Bramble put in which caused Jack to jump 10′ in the air. Lee Cattermole kicked Wilshere and Ramsey multiple times and got away with it and the rest of the Sunderland midfield took turns getting away with kicks left and right.

Leaving aside the fouls that don’t make contact, it would be a start if referees in the Premier League could punish the fouls that do make contact. Fouls like this one:

Lee Cattermole is EXACTLY that kind of player

This foul by Cattermole on Ramsey earned Cattermole a yellow and it was part of a starting 10 minutes by Sunderland in which they fouled the Arsenal players all over the pitch and got away with it time and again. Cattermole should have seen red probably twice in this game but again there were scenes of the referee and him shucking and jiving rather than the referee just sending him to an early bath. Meanwhile, if the Arsenal players got anywhere near the Sunderland boys the whistle went immediately and the cards were quick.

But in the end Arsenal did just enough to ensure the three points. Giroud and Cazorla both squandered golden chances on the counter attack as Sunderland decided to play football in the final 15 minutes and extended themselves to get an equalizer. Defensively, Ramsey was outstanding filling in for Carl Jenkinson at right back and as many of us have said here time and again, you have to love Ramsey’s willingness to do anything the boss asks. People often complain about players who don’t respect the badge, if you’re looking for one, look no further than Aaron Ramsey. And of course, Szczesny and Sagna combined to keep the clean sheet: Sagna heading away every Sunderland threat and Szczesny finally claiming some high balls, ending the game with a perfect claim with three Sunderland players surrounding him. It was a good result for Arsenal and fingers crossed that everyone comes through with no knocks and gets healthy for the FA Cup and Champions League games upcoming.

There was a lot of stuff you just missed in there my grad school friend. We proved definitively that Bacary Sagna should start at center back, that Wenger was foolish to play Wilshere, that Lee Cattermole is exactly that kind of player, and that Anthony Taylor made the kinds of decisions that cast a pall on the fundamental fairness of the Premier League. Or maybe we just talked about the game. Maybe you should read the whole article and find out?


28 thoughts on “Sagna and Wilshere overcome Sunderland and Taylor

  1. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1ickenhamgooner

    If the current standard of refereeing of Arsenal matches continues, I sadly suspect that our next leg break victim (Wilshere) will occur before the end of the current full year.

  2. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Bazza!

    Agree with most of you say. Sagna is a top man and was fantastic yesterday. Maybe, now that he’s getting older, center-back is a more favourable position for him, doesn’t have bomb up and down and can just concentrate on defending.

    Have to say though, against the high-ball avalanche that Stoke & Sunderland delivered, Mertesacker has been an absolute Giant in both games and had Crouch and Fletcher in his pocket.

    And Szez proved again he is the BEST keeper in the Prem – not Hart who has made about a dozen howlers this season and is a huge reason why City have lost the title and knocked out of the Champions League.

      1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        Sid, if you’ve spent any time on this site, you’d know Caribkid is a committed Gooner, just like the rest of us.

        As for criticism of SZCZ, it’s not unwarranted, especially in terms of his command of his area.

        Or are you of those people who believe that certain players are above criticism? It seems some have their favorites, and some have their whipping posts, and nothing anybody says will change their minds.

  3. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Breezy

    Off course the ref was awful how else is he going to qualify for a job at the FA where the primary criteria is incompetence. How do think Mike Riley got his job?

  4. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Mike Walsh

    What exactly have Arsenal Football Club done to upset the referees’ union? We get no protection and the shocking assault on Ramsay by Cattermole which should have resulted in a straight red was the signal for the usual “kick them off the park” routine.
    The only way to deal with the lack of protection is to look after yourselves and the reaction to the bully boys in the Stoke and Sunderland games was a start. An enforcer in the midfield or back four would also help, come on Arsene total football is one thing but having someone around to kick the Cattermoles of this world into Row Z also has a place!

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Joe

      Problem with that plan is one kick from an arsenal player means a straight red card ever time it happens.

  5. +12 Vote -1 Vote +1Glowworm

    Santi and Jack must NOT play against Blackburn. If Diaby and Rosicky can’t get the job done, so be it. With only 12 games to go and 4 points to make up, we will desperately need our two key players!

  6. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Given how parochial British refs are, I expected them to look out for England’s next great white hope, or at least call a foul a foul. But of course, I didn’t factor in how deep their parochialism runs. Arsenal are a bunch of ‘southern softies’ who ‘don’t like it up them’ and ‘a bunch of foreigners’ who are ‘foreign cheats’. It is a matter of their xenophobic provincialist pride for them to see Arsenal’s players ruined.

    …now, you may read that and think, “what nonsense,” but honestly, what other explanation could there be for the blatant bias you see in how games are called? Pure incompetence? No, because then it would disadvantage both teams. So what is it?

    1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1charybdis1966

      You’ve hit the nail on the head there B’ist; Tim wrote an article a while back where he pointed out that of the 20 something BPL registered referees all but 2 or 3 were northern. We are Arsenal no one/referee likes us, we don’t care.

    2. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

      I wish I could believe it’s a simple case of north-south bias. But I don’t. Firstly bias usually shouldn’t lead to the sort of blatantly wrong calls that we see. Bias indicates a subconscious element rather than a conscious one, and I believe a lot of the ‘errors’ we’ve seen are conscious choices rather than some bias kicking in.

      If you accept, as I do, that ManU get favours from refs because they are the league’s flagship brand, and them winning helps the league, and as Tim mentioned, the league’s self interest is in getting big teams to buy big names for lots of money, then Arsenal represent the opposite of that. Which makes the Arsenal way of doing things a threat to the established order. Hence the refereeing and the media reporting on Arsenal.

  7. Vote -1 Vote +1allan1340

    THIS IS ARSENAL WE ARE TALKING ABOUT, almost every body knows that referees are against us as well as media. I think we played against 12 men squad not 11. This mafia will not stop because there is a lot money involved. Maybe you think that i am too harsh but u have to watch the game once again this fucking asshole was every thing but not a referee.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Sid

    Sunderland ARE a threat in the sir. Fletcher and now Graham’s main attributes are their aerial threats.

    Way too harsh on Szczesny and Per man.

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1Dobromir

    Yes i agree, both of them were good in the last two games and contributed as much as anybody else to the clean sheets.

  10. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Jerry

    In some ways, that felt like the best win of the year. You could easily make a case for 5-2 or maybe 7-5, but I don’t remember being into a game (that we won) as much as yesterday’s in a while. Guts, drama, overcoming adversity, heroic performances, running until the legs were completely gone, some good luck while defending, some bad luck while attacking — this one had it all. While I’m not sure that we can necessarily draw any long-term conclusions from it, at least it gave us the entertainment that we want from a football match.

    Looking around the internet, it seems a lot of Arsenal fans have lost their edge over the past few years. The losses have become easier to take. The life or death feeling just isn’t there. And it’s understandable, given where the team is. It was nice to have it back for a day. As happy as we are that we won, we would’ve been equally crushed if we didn’t. And in a lot of ways, that’s kind of what being a fan is about.

  11. -2 Vote -1 Vote +1Jin

    Stop complaining to each other here about the referee and actually do something about it. That’s what you call yourself a true fan.

  12. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Ssinderias

    (1) the ref was a cunt
    (2) even after Jenks was sent off, I never felt that we were going to give our lead up. It was a tense finish, but this team inspires more confidence than that of the past 3-4 years
    (3) I have no problem with Jenks’ performance. His first yellow was in response to the ref’s non-calls, and he stepped up to give a kick right back. If Taylor had been consistent, Sunderland would already have had at least one less player on the pitch
    (4) the ref was an absolute cunt

  13. Vote -1 Vote +1sadi

    haha..nice post.but you undermined Diaby though.well I think diaby is playing with handsbrake on.its may be because of the fear factor that he might get injured again.he is not the diaby who played in the early matches..pools match.may be its good in a way that he may develop his strength and get over injuries.I hope so.nice paragraph in the end.I am regular reader of your blog.I like your blogu

  14. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    Someone needs to inform the PGMOL that in a couple of seasons, three of England’s starting eleven will be playing for Arsenal. It’s not even southern vs northern bias. Mike Dean was caught celebrating a tot’s goal against us a season or two ago. And guess who will be blamed when Wilshere becomes unavailable to England when an English player, playing for an English team in an English league officiated by an English ref, injures the next great English player? The Frenchman of course!

  15. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Davsta

    It’s not a bias against southern teams, Chelski claimed successive titles, the only time Manu had to go two seasons without the title since prem started.
    The general rule of thumb is if Manu don’t win a title put the house on them being champions the following season. Back to the gambling influences we discussed the other day.

  16. Vote -1 Vote +1Davsta

    Oh incidentally, when Blackburn won their title and stopped Manure winning the first 3 in a row, there was a lot of reffing and FA nonsense going on including I recall Tim Flowers receiving a lengthy ban at the end of the season, similar to Sol’s ban when ole gunner sol….(?) dived over his leg.

  17. Vote -1 Vote +1Yan

    It’s monday and I’m still buzzing with this win. As some of you already said, I hope Bac’s long term future is at CB. He (and us) deserves to retire with full honors wearing the red and white. The refereeing was absolutely unbelieveable. Given that AW and Hogson seem to get along well, that channel should be used to get fair protection for Wilshere and the other english boys. Credit to Jenks for stepping up to the ref’s absolute ineptitude. Respect to Ramsey too for doing a fine job at RB.

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