This is one rose that stinks

Sunderland v. Arsenal: three points please

Arsenal take the long trip to Sunderland tonight to face Martin O’Neill’s men on the freshly tilled grounds at the Stadium of Blight.

With just one very, very, (strangely) late loss in their last 7 matches together Arsenal don’t have a particularly poor League record against Sunderland. But with just three wins the Gunners don’t have a particularly good record either.

Still, Sunderland isn’t a bogey team in the same way that Bolton were so long ago, but the Black Cats epitomize everything that the Gunners have a hard time beating. Sunderland do a great job sitting back and keeping clean sheets. They are second in the League with 9 clean sheets out of 25 games but they have also let in 33 goals in the other 16 games.

Oddly, they have conceded 7 goals in the first 15 minutes of games, 7 in the first 15 minutes after the second half kicks off, and 7 in the final 15 minutes of games. In each of the other three 15 minute periods they have conceded just 4 goals (12 total).

This indicates a team that lacks concentration and if Arsenal can get at them in the opening quarter of an hourĀ - show some real guts and go for the jugular early – it will force Sunderland to be more liberal and the result could be a high scoring game for Arsenal.

Arsenal played Sunderland on opening day and had 23 shots to Sunderland’s 4 so we know that the boys are going to get chances. Despite that bulk shots advantage, Sunderland forced two saves and Arsenal forced just three. That’s a shot on goals number that won’t be good enough tomorrow for Arsenal.

The Gunners need to do more than work the ball around the outside of the Sunderland area, they need to get midfielders into the box and cause trouble among the Sunderland lines. Cazorla should be well rested and if he can give an energetic and direct performance, he could cause real trouble. He also shoots from distance and forcing the keeper to make saves from stinging long-range shots can open up scoring chances for hungry forwards.

I’m interested to see who Arsene starts in the front three tomorrow. Conventional wisdom has the boss resting Gervinho, but the Ivorian was in fine form during the ACN and as I have documented was well rested during his trip to Africa compared to his teammates who have been pulling doubles in the League and FA Cups all January. Gervinho also has the ability to break down defenses in tight quarters so I would think him ideal for tomorrow’s match. Playing him on the right and Podolski on the left with Giroud in the middle would let Arsene bring Theo Walcott off the bench and terrify Sunderland for the last 15 minutes of the game.

Sadly, I don’t think Arsene will start Gervinho.

In the midfield, Arsene is already sounding the warning bells over Jack Wilshere getting burnt out. I agree and I would rest him tomorrow, starting Diaby, Arteta, and Cazorla instead. None of those three played in the mid week friendlies (much less Jack Wilshere’s gut-busting 90 minute stint) so they should be focused and ready to kick on for the purple and blue.

At the back, Arsenal shouldn’t have much to deal with in terms of frequency, but what they will see will be nothing but big chances for Sunderland as they will look to release Sessegnon and Fletcher with over the top balls early in the game. Fletcher is not the most graceful center forward in the League but he has 10 goals on 43 shots, all of them from open play, no headers, and all of them coming before the 60th minute (7 in the first half).

One player to watch out for is Danny Rose. He is the most fouled player in the Premier League, meaning that he draws more fouls than all the other players in the League. I say “most fouled” but the reality is that he’s quite light on his feet and has already been cautioned for diving this season. Must be something about them Tottenham boys. Other than that one stat, he’s very average, but look for him to try to get some slight fouls in and around the Arsenal box so that Seb Larsson can whip in a dangerous cross or two.

Unfortunately, Arsenal have a mini-injury-crisis brewing at center back. A crisis of their own making I might add. Vermaelen has been ruled out and Koscielny “must pass a test” on a recurring calf injury. I hate to sound like Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra but playing a barely fit Koscielny at Sunderland before the big FA Cup and Champions League games has shades of Santos at Olympiakos written all over it.

At least the fullback positions are covered. Arsene bought in the January market and with rumors strongly linking Santos to a loan back to Brazil the Gunners will be grateful for Nacho Monreal and his rather conservative approach to the position. On the other side of the pitch, Arsene has options and could start Carl Jenkinson tomorrow, why not? The rest of the back four is in disarray and Sanga had a torrid game for France in midweek.

The injuries are especially painful because Arsenal have the most error prone defense in the League (13 errors) and many of those errors have come from an uncertain and nervous back four. So, while I understand that people would like to see some pretty radical lineup changes (one person even mooting Sagna as center back) I think that even if Koscielny fails his fitness test, the Boss is going to opt for Squilaci or Miquel instead of some really experimental lineup.

Who would I pick to play center back? Well, I would pick that new center half we signed in January. You know, the one Arsenal bought to replace Johan Djourou? Michael Mancienne? Chico? Anybody Butsquillaci? Oh, the deal fell through? I guess there was a problem with his paperwork.

Regardless the injuries and the international break, Arsenal should have the quality and freshness to beat Sunderland. Same goes for the fact that they will release the Holsteins on the pitch tonight and that the undersoil heating will probably be turned off. Oh and if anyone’s wondering, Anthony Taylor is the referee tomorrow and he will probably let all sorts of fouls go that you wish he would call.

Given all that, Arsenal still have the talent to beat Sunderland and anything less than 3 points from a full-blooded Arsenal performance would be a real let down. Par for the course this season, but a let down none-the-less.


33 thoughts on “Sunderland v. Arsenal: three points please

  1. -4 Vote -1 Vote +1Uncle Mike

    If we’re going to strike quickly and avoid Series, the best thing we can do is turn off Diaby’s alarm clock. If he plays, against this kind of team, this will be one of those games where we don’t score in the first 40 minutes, the opposition does thanks to Diaby’s abysmal passing and clumsy defending, and it’s 1-0 to the Dirty Northern B@$+@rds and we’re looking for a miracle equalizer from the 80th minute on – the kind Nicklas Bendtner used to get before he became as bad in the last 10 minutes as he was in the first 80 and it was obvious that he had to go.

    No, I play Wilshere, and sub him off for Diaby only when it’s 4-0 to The Arsenal. Even Diaby can’t futz up a 4-0 Arsenal lead. Only Phil Dowd can do that.

  2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1GiantGooner

    To me our back 4 tomorrow should be Sagna-Mertesacker-Miquel-Nacho, Miquel has to be our LB on Wednesday assuming Vermaelen isn’t gonna be fit and we need Koscielny for Bayern so it strikes me as better to give his calf a few more days to heal. Miquel is a decent youngster, he hasn’t made a fool of himself in past showings so hopefully he’s good enough to not get dominated by Fletcher.

    I’ve gotta admit that I’m extraordinarily pessimistic about the Bayern tie though, despite our passable recent form. I suspect it has a lot to do with our abysmal form against top clubs. Dominated by United, OK point at City but little on the attacking side, dominated by City at the Emirates (after a deserved red card on Kos), poor against Chelsea in both ties. Here’s a stat that is very telling about the 2012-13 version of Arsenal: we’ve picked up 1 point out of 15 potential against the top 3 in the league. Against the rest of the league we’ve taken 40 out of 60 possible points.

    It will be very interesting to see if this trend continues. Normally goal difference is a good leading indicator of a team’s performance and goal difference would suggest that Arsenal has underperformed and is primed for a rebound, but my eyes tell me differently. I hope I’m wrong though.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1Uncle Mike

    That should have read “avoid errors.” Maybe my spellchecker made the futzup FOR Diaby, and he’ll have the kind of game that have some people still thinking he’ll be the New Vieira. (Which Vieira, Meredith?)

  4. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1James

    Worth noting – the ‘one guy’ to mention Sagna at center back was Wenger himself in his press conference: “The options are restricted, I will have to be creative. We have Iggy Miquel, we have Sagna who can play there and Jenkinson on the right, so we will see. But we have very good hope that Koscielny will be available.”

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Wang

    Nice preview Tim – some interesting numbers in there and things to look out for, plus the Darmok ref. I’d like to see some rotation, too, and without taking the opposition too lightly, it should be an opportunity for much needed rest for several key players. Yes, Sunderland have shown they can park the bus, but our attacking edge hasn’t been sharper all year and we’re carrying in some good form.

    I don’t see what the panic is about the back four – I’m with Giant and would play Miquel, who I’ve always thought was quite capable and a promising youngster. I wouldn’t even worry too much about seeing him in the Champion’s league if it came to that. Besides, Per was in great form against France, and it’s a good time for him to be peaking provided he doesn’t get too run down or fall into a gopher hole in the pitch.

  6. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1TT

    Cazorla, who started for Spain vs Uruguay mid week friendly, won’t be fresh. He played for 71 min and had to fly back from Doha, where the match was held.

  7. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    Well, Koz starts and I can’t help worrying that we’re risking long term injury to him. Taken in isolation, loaning out JD didn’t have to be a horrible decision. It was loaning him after selling Song at the beginning of the season and on top of that, not getting a replacement which has put us in a ridiculous situation. That’s the managerial equivalent of Liverpool’s first goal. Multiple errors in sequence leading to potential disaster. And the fact that we got a decent left back in 48 hours completely debunks Wenger’s statements about how hard it is to find players to strengthen the squad. It’s only hard if you’re not willing to make a deal.

    As for the line-up, Poldi starts on the bench while Santi goes to the wing in front of a midfield three of Wilshere, Ramsey, and Arteta. It’s a decent midfield which should allow us to control the game and the combination of Jackie boy and Cathorla should hopefully give us the creativity to unlock the Sunderland bus. Rosicky and Poldi give us options on the bench.

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    Well f*** me! Last minute change leads to a backline of Nacho, Mert, Sagna, and Jenkinson. Miguel isn’t ready to start even in this situation?!

  9. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    HT: The only thing missing from Ramsey today is a goal. Okay, he gave the ball away egregiously once in the first half, but overall his movement has been fantastic…if only he had his shooting boots. Wilshere has been…Wilshere. Awesome. Sunderland have been complete scumbags. Refs love scumbags.

  10. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

    Which one of you dipshits called for Sagna to start at CB today? Clearly got that call wrong, didn’tcha? #sarcasm

  11. Vote -1 Vote +1Gooneryank

    Lee Cattermole seems to have added play acting and crying to offset his thuggery. Quite the quintessential Captain. Tosser.

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Oh no. Wilshere’s crocked.

    Diaby comes on…which means loss of possession in midfield.


  13. Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Utter fucking implosion after Wilshere left.

    Got to thank Szczesny and Sagna for those 3 points.

    1. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1craig

      It was a little like Cannavaro… a short guy can get it done when he is smarter, faster, and more committed. It was great to see Sagna back at his best.

      1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        He’s always been good in the air though. No? I’ve long thought he could put in a decent shift at CB. Very impressive today.

      2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

        Yes he completely neutralized Sunderland’s game plan of hoofing the ball to Fletcher in the first half and had many last ditch tackles & interceptions in the second. I wish we could hang on him but apparently he’s off to PSG. He will definitely be missed if that happens.

        Monreal had a few scary moments. Last week Stoke showed no ambition at the Grove but he got a proper welcome to English football today.

  14. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    I didn’t think we were too terrible in MF after Wilshere left. Yeah we gave away the lion’s share of the ball but we still created gilt edged chances that should have put this game to bed. Both Sagna and Szczney joint men of the match for me.

    Great way to start off the year of the snake! xin nian hao!

  15. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

    Sagna motm. our best defender by a mile. i think people were only slating him off out of passive resignation that he’s leaving at the end of the season. Bac could start at RB for Real, Barcelona, City, United, PSG, etc, and he deserves to if he wants. an absolute legend. really don’t think we can keep him anymore, but it’s been so nice having him.

  16. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    Sagna was easily MOTM for me. Playing out of position and obviously targeted by Sunderland, he didn’t put a foot wrong. It was a performance which was based more on grit, desire, and focus. If more Arsenal players showed similar toughness, determination, and concentration, I don’t think we’d be complaining as much about our team’s mental fragility. His performance level may have taken a slight dip this season but he’s still one of the best right backs in the BPL. Certainly, some of that drop off may be partially explained by the tactical reshuffle which sees Theo pushed higher up the pitch as more of an out and out striker. I hope we re-sign him.

    By the reports I’ve read, the major stumbling block is Arsene’s refusal to extend Sagna’s contract beyond one year. If true, that would be one of Wenger’s biggest mistakes of recent seasons. Sagna has been our most reliable defender since he joined the club, a model professional, and remarkably durable. He’s started 101 more games and made 57 more total appearances in one less season at the club than Tomas Rosicky, who last year received a two year contract extension. Sagna turns 30 this month, a year younger than when Rosicky was when given his extension. One need only look at the continuing impact of Giggs and Scholes at ManUre to appreciate that veteran players bring not only playing ability on the pitch, but leadership in the locker room which is difficult to replace. How much would it cost to replace Sagna? His replacement would not only have to be one of the top five or ten right backs in the world but have his model professionalism, quiet leadership (a player who leads by example if there ever was one), and warrior’s mentality. Surely, the transfer fee and long term contract of such a player would be more than a two or three year contract extension for Sagna.

    Gazidis has been crowing all season about our increased commercial revenues and how that will allow us to build a championship squad. It’s just as important to use that money to keep the core squad together as it is to bring in players to strengthen it. Otherwise, we’re just treading water.

  17. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1craig

    I agree… I always liked Arsene’s policy because I feel like older players are usually overpaid, so it makes more sense to bring in the young/new. But Sagna is so clearly an excellent example for the young guys… and is still pretty damn good. He’s a better right back than Rosicky is a CM. Off one performance, he may be a better CB than Rosicky is a CM! And he’s not on Arshavin wages. I hope if he goes it’s not for the wrong reasons. Sagna is the exact style of player everyone says they want Arsenal to sign, and we already have him.

  18. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1dano328

    Sagna plus Schez, both inconsistent till today, no doubt won the game for us. It’s should have been 3-nil at half but now Giroud, Santi, Walcott are being inconsistent with finishing. They can create a chance at the drop of a hat (with Jack) Lets they hope they get hot. Was Sagna shopping himself today or does he love the shirt?

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