Sunderland vs. Arsenal: Ramsey’s breakthrough season

All the talk was about Ozil’s Premiership debut, however the Man of the Match on Saturday was Ramsey. The Wales midfielder is enjoying a breakthrough season, scoring twice to lead the Gunners to a 3-1 win over Sunderland. Ramsey has notched more goals in a month than he did in any previous season with Arsenal.

Wenger had a squad that was more depleted than usual as Rosicky, Sanogo, Cazorla and Mertesacker joined Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta and Diaby on the disabled list. Ozil and Wilshere ended up splitting time on the left wing throughout the match. Although Ozil has only trained for a few days with his new teammates, he quickly looked like a perfect fit for Arsenal’s style of play. In the first half, the German playmaker showed his ability to escape marking by moving between the lines. He also developed a good understanding with Wilshere in midfield. But what really struck me was his creativity and his reading of the game. When Fabregas was still at the club, you knew Arsenal would have tons of scoring opportunities. Since the Spaniard’s departure, the Gunners have struggled to create chances, relying first on Van Persie’s finishing and then on a solid team effort.

Ozil displayed his perfect timing for superbly weighted passes by creating three clear-cut chances within 45 minutes. He controlled a long ball from Gibbs on the left wing and made a pinpoint low pass for Giroud, who gave Arsenal the lead in the 11th minute with a low strike from 15 yards. Four minutes later, Ozil slipped a through ball to Walcott, who was denied by Westwood. Ozil found again the England winger in the 28th, but Westwood stopped Walcott’s low effort from a tight angle. Suffering from a stomach bug, Ozil faded in the second half and was replaced by Vermaelen. You can bet that teams in the Premier League will man-mark Ozil the way they did with Fabregas. A player who can create a flurry of chances is simply too dangerous to be left alone.

Arsenal had no trouble to dominate ball possession with its superior technique as Sunderland looked clueless. But Walcott’s poor finishing prevented the Gunners from having a bigger lead before the break. Unmarked while chasing a ball over the top from Wilshere, Walcott could only head wide in the 43rd. The England winger then pounced on a flick-on from Giroud but had his close-range attempt saved by Westwood on the stroke of halftime.

The Black Cats were not much of a threat in the first half. Their only chances came from Arsenal’s passivity. Diakite escaped Koscielny’s marking on a corner and outjumped Giroud in the 14th for a header that bounced off the bar. Then the Gunners failed to play to the whistle, expecting a foul to be called, and allowed a long-range strike from Altidore that was parried by Szczesny in the 18th.

In the second half, Sunderland made the Gunners pay for their lack of efficiency. The Black Cats capitalized on a corner poorly cleared by the Arsenal defense in the 47th. Johnson ran at Koscielny, who panicked and brought down the Sunderland winger. Gardner wrongfooted Szczesny to convert the subsequent penalty. Koscielny clearly showed poor judgment: Johnson could only shoot from a narrow angle and Koscielny was in a very good position for a block while Gibbs was also covering the Frenchman. Wenger needs to have a serious chat with Koscielny. This is the second penalty in four matches that Koscielny has given away. At 28, Koscielny should show more maturity on the pitch.

That equalizer hurt Arsenal’s confidence and gave Sunderland more self-belief. Johnson skipped past Gibbs in the 59th and made a low cross that Fletcher diverted home. But the goal was disallowed for an offside. Two minutes later, Flamini gave away a free kick with a late challenge on Altidore. Gardner’s set piece hit the post and bounced across goal before rolling wide.

In a tough spot, Arsenal was saved by two great moves from Ramsey. The Wales midfielder made one run inside the Sunderland box in the 20th to take a pass from Wilshere but Roberge blocked Ramsey’s low strike. Ramsey had more luck in the second half. Jenkinson made his first decent cross of the match in the 67th and Ramsey volleyed the offering past Westwood for a 2-1 lead. Ramsey then concluded an intricate play involving Ozil and Giroud by slipping the ball past the Sunderland goalkeeper in the 76th. Ramsey’s attacking skills are maturing this season as he is starting to score more goals just like Fabregas did in the 2007-08 season. Ramsey’s growing stature combined with Ozil’s quick adjustment at the club could turn Arsenal into a title contender if Giroud stays fit this season.

Yet, the positive result should not downplay the fact that Sunderland had more chances in the second half. The Black Cats thought they had leveled in the 70th when Altidore held off a challenge from Sagna to beat Szczesny. But the referee did not play advantage and blew the whistle before Altidore penetrated inside the area. That was a 50-50 play in my eyes. Altidore and Sagna were holding each other. Atkinson could have called a foul against Altidore, but in the end he gave Sagna a yellow card.

A lack of pressure from Arsenal’s midfield allowed Gardner to collect a through ball in the 73rd. The Sunderland substitute outpaced Koscielny but fired wide. The Gunners poorly defended corners on Saturday. Altidore outjumped Gibbs and Vermaelen in the 83rd to connect with a corner from Johnson but missed the target. Arsenal really needs to work on attacking the ball in training because those poor defensive displays on corners have been a recurrent issue in the last couple of seasons.

In stoppage time, Giroud seemed to twist his knee while attempting to convert a cross from Ramsey. The Frenchman was replaced by the 17-year-old Akpom as Bendtner was not even fit enough to be on the bench. Our depleted squad is a concern since Arsenal will play six matches in 19 days. If Arsenal is in contention after Boxing Day, Wenger should make an effort to sign a seasoned centerforward in January.


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