It looked like the Gunners were about to drop two points at Sunderland until Giroud came off the bench to score twice in five minutes. Saturday’s 4-1 victory helped Arsenal stay level on points with Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
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The scoreline seemed a bit flattering for a team that lacked creativity in midfield. It wasn’t as bad as against Middlesbrough but Elneny and Coquelin, who deputized for the injured Cazorla and the suspended Xhaka, struggled to build up plays despite enjoying 65% of ball possession. Elneny made 97 passes, 28 more than any other Gunner, but only one was a key pass. Since both Elneny and Coquelin have limited passing skills, Ozil often dropped back to give a hand.
The Black Cats also made Arsenal’s job more difficult by committing many cynical fouls. Pienaar was not even booked in the 28th minute for killing a counterattack by tripping Sanchez. Two minutes later, the referee finally handed out the first yellow card of the game when Khazri pulled Ozil down. The punishment did not deter Sunderland from playing rough as Ndong, Pienaar and Djilobodji were also booked for either late tackles or challenges from behind.
Moyes was highly rated a few years ago. That’s why he was appointed manager of Manchester United in 2013. Now, when you see how poorly the Black Cats played on Saturday, it’s easy to understand why his stock has fallen so sharply. Sunderland looked like a Pulis or Allardyce team, playing with a lot of commitment but devoid of ideas.
More directness with Giroud
Sanchez carried the scoring burden on his shoulders in the first half as Walcott was sidelined by a hamstring strain. He got ahead of Kone in the 19th to head home a cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain for the opening goal. In what could have been a dramatic call, Sanchez then had a penalty appeal ignored by the referee in the 62nd when Kone clearly pulled him back. Sanchez capitalized on a goalmouth scramble to seal the win in the 78th. He spun away from Djilobodji with some quick footwork and flicked the ball past Pickford with the outside of his boot.
The Chile striker definitely benefited from a long summer break as he raised his tally to eight goals in all competitions this season. He occasionally dropped back against Sunderland to share the creative duties with Ozil, Iwobi and the Ox. Sanchez found Ozil inside the area in the 13th but the Germany playmaker’s curling shot did not trouble Pickford. A minute later, Coquelin collected a through ball from Sanchez but was robbed by Kone before he could shoot.
The Gunners found space in the first half because Sunderland played a high defensive line. The hosts limited Arsenal’s runs in behind by adopting a more compact shape after the break. Wenger opted for more directness in the 69th by replacing Iwobi with Giroud. The move paid off as Giroud converted his two goal attempts. Sanchez released Gibbs down the left flank in the 71st and the England international made a cross for Giroud, who volleyed into the bottom corner with his first touch of the game for a 2-1 lead. Five minutes later, Giroud made a run toward the near post to head home a corner from Ozil.
The Ox’s end product and work-rate
Giroud’s physicality and dominance in the air could have made the difference against Middlesbrough a week ago. He has skills that Sanchez doesn’t have and the other way around. While Perez is the logical back-up for Sanchez with his pace and technique, only Welbeck can match Giroud’s attributes. The manager will have to find a way to improve the understanding between Sanchez and Giroud because they are not on the same wavelength on the pitch. Giroud controlled a long ball in the 88th and tried to feed Sanchez, who had stopped his run because he expected to collect that ball.
I previously mentioned Iwobi’s poor run of form in the last few games. Saturday was no exception. Iwobi made no key pass and his two goal attempts were long-range strikes that missed the target. Besides the lack of end product, a greater concern is Iwobi’s poor work-rate. The Nigeria international only won 33% of his duels, the lowest percentage among the midfielders according to the club’s website. Iwobi needs to improve his defensive awareness. He was dispossessed by Ndong in the 51st and made no effort to win the ball back. He also exposed the Arsenal defense a couple of times by not tracking Jones, the Sunderland rightback.
If Walcott had been fit, it would have been interesting to see Wenger’s choice for the starting spot on the left wing. The Ox deputized for Walcott on the right wing and showed more end product and work-rate than Iwobi. The England international won 67% of his duels and 4 of 4 tackles, the most for any player. He set up the opener in the 19th by outpacing Watmore to make a pinpoint cross for Sanchez. The Ox could have claimed a second assist with a ball over the top for Ozil in the 38th but the Germany playmaker slightly underhit his lob attempt.
Mustafi’s learning process
The only negative for the Ox on Saturday was his finishing. He lacked the composure he showed against Reading in the League Cup. The Ox dispossessed Khazri in the 35th and cut inside only to shoot straight at the keeper. He developed an interesting understanding with Ozil in the second half. Ozil sent him clean through on goal in the 59th but the Ox rushed his effort and dragged his shot wide. The Ox then took a pass from Ozil in the 69th and fired a cross-shot that ran across goal. On the bright side, the Ox is finally making those runs that put him in a good position to score. He just needs to improve his composure in the final third like Ramsey did in the 2013-14 season.
The Black Cats are such a weak side that their only clear-cut chance came from a mistake by Mustafi, who poorly read the flight of a long ball from Ndong in the 64th. Watmore took advantage of the bounce to cut inside Mustafi and dribble past Cech, who brought him down with his shoulder. Defoe converted the subsequent penalty to level the score. If Ospina had been in goal, his quick legs would have given him a better chance against Watmore.
The Gunners can only be grateful that the new laws of the game only require a yellow card for the keeper if he makes a genuine attempt to play the ball. Mustafi has been a great signing for the club, but he needs to erase those basic mistakes from his game. At 24, he’s still relatively young for the centerback position.
Ramsey’s return from injury
At leftback, Gibbs made a significant offensive contribution with 3 key passes, tied with Ozil for the most by any player. He set up Giroud’s volley in the 71st and struck the post in the goalmouth scramble that led to the last goal. Gibbs also picked out Ozil, whose effort deflected off a defender for a corner in the 73rd. He would need games against stronger opposition to compare his defensive performance with Monreal’s level.
Ramsey made his return from a hamstring injury by replacing the Ox in the 77th. The manager thought it was safe to give Ramsey some playing time with a two-goal lead. Ramsey really looked rusty on the play that produced the final goal. His poor touch turned into a pass for Gibbs, who hit the woodwork. From the rebound, Ramsey’s poor first-time effort turned into a pass for Sanchez, who scored from close range. On current form, there’s no way Ramsey could start the next two games before the international break in November.
What I liked the most about Saturday’s game is that the manager took no risk with the fitness of Monreal, Cazorla and Walcott. Wenger left them out of the squad even though they could have played if needed. Monreal has a muscle strain while Walcott picked up a hamstring strain. The biggest concern is probably Cazorla’s Achilles injury. That could be a recurring problem this season. A long period of rest is the only cure for that kind of injury. Hopefully, Wenger won’t risk any key player against Ludogorets on Tuesday. The North London Derby next Sunday is a much more important game. The Gunners have a squad deep enough to rotate against the Bulgarian side.