Arsenal Grind Out a 1-0 Win at Sunderland

It was a return of the 1-0 to the Arsenal once again this week, a result we haven’t seen twice in a row for some time now. A long-missed defensive solidarity that Arsenal fans have craved for 5 or 6 years now, although it is by no means proven or consistent as of yet.

Arsenal dominated much of the game, creating numerous chances and scoring just the one goal before Jack Wilshere was subbed off injured, and Jenkinson was sent off for a second bookable offence. Sunderland then piled on the pressure, especially in the last 10 minutes.

It was a bright start to the game, with Theo Walcott hitting two on target in the first 8 minutes and although Simon Mignolet was equal to them, Theo probably should have got one of them in.

Sunderland setting about their physical game, they knew it was the only way if they wanted to get something out of it and Cattermole’s return was surely the catalyst for their ‘dirty’ tackling in midfield against our technically gifted quad of Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey and Arteta. Cattermole was booked in 80 seconds after a lunge on Ramsey.

Unfortunately the ref didn’t give the protection that the Arsenal players deserved, especially Jack Wilshere. Arsene Wenger stated that,

I was a bit frustrated because I thought Jack didn’t get the free kicks he deserved. The referee let two or three things go that I thought were a foul on Jack. I just want the referee to give a foul when it’s a foul. I don’t want any special protection.

However, despite many bad tackles from the Sunderland players, it was Carl Jenkinson who would pick up the next yellow card after 18 minutes for a mistimed challenge.

Arsenal continued to press, and it was a great run from Jack Wilshere, charging through the midfield pass three players before he found Walcott, who controlled it then laid it off to Cazorla and with a crisp hit from his left foot it found the far bottom corner from the edge of the area and Mignolet was unable to keep this one out to his left, after a string of fine saves.

Jack Wilshere was taken off early into the second-half after a collision with N’Diaye who left his leg in, injuring Jack’s thigh. Diaby came on in place and added a physical presence and height that would soon be crucial when Jenkinson was sent off for an almost identical mistimed challenge down the wing.

After the challenges and fouls by the Sunderland players, it is frustrating that we should end up with 10 men. But it’s hard to argue that Carl’s tackles weren’t bookable offences yet you want the referee to be consistent, and against Sunderland, he just wasn’t.

This was to change the tides, and Sunderland would go all out attack to get an equaliser, bringing on Danny Graham to a great ovation. Last time he played at the Stadium of Light he was booed endlessly for Swansea, as he is a Newcastle fan. How fickle fans are.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And that is exactly what Arsenal managed to do. Ramsey dropped in at right-back, and Sagna had his best game of the season playing centre-back, ironically. He even out shone Mertesacker, who has 86 caps for Germany in that position. He won more headers than most, and considering he’s a short fella, this was a great achievement.

I thought Ramsey played quite well too, and carried out his tasks well wherever he was asked to play, but Cazorla was on a different planet and some of his play was superb. He worked so hard to get box to the box in the last 20 minutes, trying to create things for Arsenal even though we were under constant threat. At 74 minutes he played through Walcott who hit the post, and this would have sealed the win more comfortably than we did. Wenger had this to say on him.

Top, top class. When you think that this guy is not a regular in the Spanish national team, it shows you how good they are. I think he had an outstanding performance today.

Giroud I was disappointed with. Not only did he miss a host of chances throughout the game, but gave little to collective effort, and in that last 20 minutes you want your tall, strong striker to be holding up the ball to bring others in to play as obviously they were all defending. But time after time he lost it, once even blazing one over the bar from long-range when Santi and Theo were options. Wenger went manic at this point, shouting and flapping his arms. It was a huge frustration and as with a good ten minutes left it was far from won.

But Szczesny really did save the day. A number of great saves that could have easily gone in, and we could have easily lost even, if it wasn’t for him. Mertesacker left him having to deal with a one-on-one. He produced a fine stop with his leg. Later he would be bombarded with crosses and headers, but in the last second he grabbed hold of the ball from Mignolet’s flick, and there was no way he was letting go.

The whistle went and it was a magnificent sight to see most of the players so emotional, shouting, hugging, and happy. It was such a battle and for once we didn’t capitulate. Some of the players like Santi were just bending down trying to catch their breath after working so hard. The passion was unbelievable and nice to see the players experiencing it as well as the fans, they seem like they are really going to grow together, as they are already, and this was without Jack or Vermaelen on the field as well remember.

Player Ratings /10:

Szczesny – 9/10

Jenkinson – 5/10

Sagna – 9/10

Mertesacker – 7/10

Monreal – 6/10

Arteta – 6/10

Ramsey – 7/10

Cazorla – 9/10

Wilshere – 9/10

Walcott – 8/10

Giroud – 6/10

Diaby – 5/10

Miquel – 5/10

Read my View the Numbers feature for an analysis of the game with statistics.

New Feature: Arsenal 1-0 Stoke – View the Numbers

Welcome to a new feature, where I will be ‘Viewing’ the stats from the games, in a poor attempt of a pun on the name ‘Gooner View’.

What better place to start than looking at the physical statistics when you play against Stoke. And don’t they just back up everything we know about how Stoke play dirty and rough.

Stoke committed 13 fouls, receiving 3 yellow cards in total although Wenger felt it should have been more, and that Shawcross should have been sent off in his Press Conference.

Arsenal on the other hand committed just the 3 fouls with no cards at all.

Interestingly though, there were 62 aerial duels in total during the whole match. Arsenal won 32 of them, to Stoke’s 30, and this shows a new dimension to Arsenal’s game in recent times. A larger influence in aerial strength and another way to play. The height of Mertesacker, Diaby, Giroud played a key role in this. Koscielny and Monreal also, despite not having the same height, are excellent at heading with great determination to win the ball and this more than makes up for it. Take that Stoke, who says we can’t handle the physical side of the game? A great change to see in recent years from the times of our fragility.

As mentioned in my Match Report, Arsenal dominated the game in terms of attempts and possession. We had 23 attempts, 5 on target, with 10 being blocked by Stoke who tried to put most their players behind the ball sitting on the edge of the box so that stat is understandable; it’s hard to get a ball through so many people, especially that lot.

Stoke had a mere 7 attempts with 1 on target, and 2 being blocked. They didn’t carry any real threat to the Arsenal goal. Nonetheless it’s great to have a clean sheet. It’s been a while!

Possession wise Arsenal had an expected 64% to Stoke’s 36%. So, not only have we added the physical dimension to our game, but we still possess the quality players who know how to keep the ball. There’s still work to be done, and we still need some quality signings, but it’s good to see an improvement in an area we had endlessly complained about over the past 6 years.

Backing that up is our 545 completed passes (88%), whereas Stoke had less than half of that with 232 completed passes (72%).

Arsenal controlled the passing with that pro-passer Arteta completing the most at 105. 30 more than the next player, Diaby. That’s about a fifth of the whole teams passes. But it was Jack Wilshere who created the most goalscoring opportunities with 5, whereas Arteta didn’t get any. It’s hard to compare them when the play in different positions, but Arteta plays a less-risk game. Wilshere has to pick out the final ball which works out less often. Diaby created 3 chances, the second highest. He obviously fits between these Jack and Mikel, in terms of his game play.

Ryan Shotton was one of Stoke’s best defensive performers, with 8 interceptions and 5 shot-blocks.

Theo Walcott suffered 3 fouls, more than anyone else, with Giroud, Koscielny, and Wilshere all suffering 2. No Stoke player suffered more than 1. Brutal.

Finishing today wasn’t as good as it needs to be however, Walcott, Giroud, and Chamberlain all had 4 shots off target, with Chamberlain the only one of the three to be on target (with 2). You expect better than this from your front three really, and this is something that needs improving when against the bigger, better teams, it’s crucial to take your chances when they come (not very often). Was Wenger right not to buy a Striker in January?

Arsenal have won their last 5 home games against Stoke now. Stoke haven’t won at Arsenal for 30 years, set to become 31 by their next visit.

That’s all for today. There will be more View the Numbers next week, after the Sunderland match.

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke – Match Report

Arsenal fought to a well deserved 1-0 victory against Stoke, but the encounter was no less tough than usual. Wenger joked afterwards that it was the biggest ‘cultural shock’ possible for Monreal, who was thrown in to the first team after just one training session at Arsenal on the Friday against the most physical side in the Premier League.

Perhaps it was partly for this reason that Podolski and especially Cazorla started on the bench. After playing many games throughout January it’s also understandable they would need a rest, but Stoke provides a good opportunity when stronger players like Diaby are an obvious choice for the physical battle. It prevents these quick, nimble players getting the living daylights kicked out of them, as Walcott received, with Wenger perhaps having one eye on the Champions League encounter coming up and not wanting any more injuries to key players after Gibbs was ruled out. However, it became necessary at 0-0 with half an hour to play to bring them on and inject the pace and urgency necessary to get the win.

Arsenal dominated the game, how Pullis can say his side deserved something is beyond belief. Arsenal played some good football and if there had been some better finishing it would have been a comfortable win. On the other hand, Begovic did have a great game, making many great shot-stops, especially from close range.

Arsenal had 23 attempts to Stoke’s 7, with only 1 of theirs on target; a long shot and easy save for Szczesny. With an expected 64% of possession in our favour. Plus the fact we got the all important goal. Yes, Pullis, you definitely deserved something. Delusional.

Walcott looked sharp again, despite not getting a goal to add to his great record of 18 starts and 18 goals, now 19 starts. Against Stoke it was obvious they would try to bring him down and stop him running. This was exactly what happened, and Wenger claimed that Shawcross should have been sent off for the number of yellow card fouls he committed. Walcott was subjected to most the bad tackles, but did earn the free kick on the edge of the area that led to the goal from Podolski. It was a deflected shot, but off of Stoke player. The linesman put his flag up for offside as well; the only man offside was Walcott and he was furthest away from the play, therefore not ‘interfering with play’. The goal deservedly stood.

Monreal had a good debut, making many good runs and delivering some excellent crosses. Defensive-wise there wasn’t much to do in all honesty, but what there was he did well, we shall see how he does in that department over the coming weeks. I expect him to start at Sunderland and Blackburn while some may be rested at Blackburn in view of the Bayern clash 3 days later, while Nacho is ineligible.

We move on with the important 3 points. Everton dropped 2 points. Chelsea dropped 3 points. Hopefully Tottenham can drop some points too. We are left 5 points off of 3rd, which isn’t too bad and considering we still have Tottenham and Everton to play and there are many big games amongst rivals, it’s certainly all still to play for.

We have a home game in the FA Cup against Championship opposition Blackburn, an expected win there will see us reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, and a big game in the Champions League against Bayern, going in as underdogs means the pressures off and if we play like we can (minus the slow starts) I don’t see why we can’t put up a good game.

Reason to be optimistic I think. Come on you reds.


Arsene Wenger Post-Stoke Press Conference

“Exactly, they made it difficult for us, they were well organised, defended very deep, we didn’t find the space, but we kept going and overall we were a bit lucky on the goal but overall we deserve this win, because we had good chances, their keeper made the saves. We played in one half in the second half especially and overall I think we deserved to win the game.”

Wenger’s thoughts on seeing the offside flag. “I thought, I haven’t seen honestly from the bench, I didn’t see what happened, I thought the linesman has given offside, I couldn’t see anything else, or maybe somebody from us has handled the ball, that’s all I could think. But in fact I’ve heard that Walcott was offside, but he was not interfering with the game then its a normal goal.

“There were some heated moments, I don’t think there was anything exceptional with some tackles. I feel overall Theo Walcott got good treatment today (*sarcasm*) but I am very happy because the way he responded to it was with full commitment and desire to impose himself and that’s where you see today that Walcott has become a different player recently, and he’s shown that today.

“It looked to me [that Ryan Shawcross was lucky to stay on the pitch] but I have to look at it again. I’m not maybe completely objective with Ryan Shawcross, so that’s why I’m a bit cautious with my statement.

“Honestly I haven’t seen that [Owen throw a punch at Arteta].”

What is it about Stoke that gets under Arsenal’s skin? “I don’t know, they know that we try to play a game that is based on movement and technique and they oppose us very strong defence, what they did very well, you have to give them credit for the way they defended today. But overall I don’t think too much happened, apart from Theo Walcott, I think he got a few bad tackles that deserved maybe a yellow before but overall it was a physical game, with a team who at the moment tries to get some points. We expected that, we prepared mentally for that.

“Yeah [it’s a relief we can grind a win too]. We are a team who can create chances, who can score goals. Today it was not the case, we created chances but we couldn’t get the goals. But still, I’m happy that for long time now we didn’t concede, and that the defence looked solid, and the satisfaction is as well that Nacho Monreal had a good start for a player who just arrived yesterday and is in the team today. He had no time to think about it but overall I felt he got stronger and stronger during the game.”

What were Nacho’s first thoughts of English football? “There is no better cultural shock than Stoke when you come from Spain. Because of course they had a very physical game. I think he dealt well with it.”

On the wins important. “I said already before the West Ham, before the Liverpool game, that we are in a position where we can’t drop points. We dropped two points against Liverpool but we couldn’t do it again today. But what is more important is the quality of our performances is there, the spirit is there, so the target to be in the top four and to focus on the two cups we are still in is very important now because we strengthen our belief and our confidence.”

Wenger Press Conference Post Liverpool: Full

“I  believe that it was first of all a great football game, where both teams went really for it and you can see it was top level overall of entertainment.

“We have tonight, honestly we could have lost the game, we could have won it as well by 3 or 4 goals difference and that shows that we have made many, many chances going forward. But we were nervous defensively and the 2 goals we have conceded today show that. We were nervous from the start, at the back, but overall we have shown great quality and tremendous spirit.”

“It was I think first of all, we were caught on counter attacks, we didn’t adjust very well, Liverpool were good going forward as well. But we didn’t give up big security tonight defensively I agree with that, but on the other hand when you see the spirit in the team and the quality going forward, you smell always that something can happen at any moment, you know when we combine like we do and in the second half we have put fantastic effort in. Overall we know what we can improve and we want to keep the positives that we’ve shown tonight in the game.”

Poor defensive starts, how can they be sorted? “Well I believe that recent history you speak about has an impact on the way we started the game tonight, and we have to get that out of our minds and focus on what we do well that is playing football, and focus on what we want to do in your position. All the rest I believe that the quality is there and we have to trust our quality and forget what happened in the past, because what happened in the past you could see tonight it played in our heads at the start of the game.”

Why are experienced defenders nervous? “Because they want to do well and they want to win games and these games have massive importance to them, and that’s why because they want to do so well.”

Positives from Theo’s performance, “I agree with you on that, he is absolutely moving forward, and his attitude and determination, you see he is a man now when he plays football, and takes responsibility and creates always danger, and he played against a top full back today and that’s where you see the quality in the big games like that.”

Can Theo do it at International level? “I think so, I think he’s ready.”

Gibbs’ injury: “It is a thigh strain and that rules him out for the next three weeks. It is a blow for us.”

Will you get another left-back in? “I will see overnight what I can do. But of course it is a big blow at the moment because Gibbs was a very important player for us as well going forward, and in the game we want to play it is a shame he is out for the next three weeks.”

Why is the second half performance much improved on the first half? “There is not always a rational explanation on that, I believe with the way we play football many times we have to wait until the other teams drop a little bit to get complete domination of the game, and when you look at all our games, even Man City in the second half we had a lot of the ball with 10 men. The problem for us basically is not bad to go 0-0 into half time.”

On the squad. “This squad is top, top-level. And I think we have to learn to trust these players again and keep facing them. We have signed a bunch of young players, young English players, who have committed to the club for the next 4/5 years. I think there’s a lot to come out of this team but we have to trust them and keep facing them.”

It’s the defensive side that needs improving. “We will.”

Does Wenger expect any transfers on deadline day? “I cannot promise you that, we work on it, we asked an official extension of the transfer window for one week, maybe we’ll be capable to do that.

“Yeah [David Villa negotiations/deal is completely dead].”

On the players response to the draw: “They are frustrated because we haven’t won the game, but somewhere they can feel they have given everything so there’s a certain sense of feeling they’ve done their job. But you want to win football games, so of course they are frustrated.”