Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland: The Visitors Shut the Door

The match reports you read elsewhere today will have many common themes. There will be the usual bleatings about how we couldn't break down an inferior opponent, though of course there will be no mention of our previous defensive fragility (funny, that). There will be the those who question our new signings because they didn't score 38 goals apiece in their first match with us.

The people who write those reports will be wrong. Don't listen to them.

It was somewhat of a makeshift side, with Gervinho bizarrely installed as an ersatz center forward, Olivier Giroud settling for a place on the bench. Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott flanked the Ivorian, with Santi Cazorla playing behind. Mikael Arteta and Abou Diaby dropped deeper in midfield, while Per Mertesacker deputized for the injured Laurent Koscielny in central defense.

You'll be stunned to know that I missed the first 15 minutes, though the MTA really was at fault this time (that, and the extra block needed to get to my new viewing location - TEAM O'HANLON'S!). In my absence, both sides had chances to break the deadlock. James McClean was played clean through on goal, but his low drive was blocked by the legs of Wojceich Szczesny. Down the other end, Cazorla's long-range effort was repelled by the dive of Simon Mignolet.

The match slowly began to settle into a rhythm, with Arsenal maintaining possession while the Black Cats defended in numbers. Despite the oddity of his starting position, Gervinho was an energetic presence in the first half, and on another day he might have claimed at least one assist. A mazy run from the man with the giant cranium concluded with a fabulous cut-back into the penalty area, but Cazorla and Podolski demonstrated the need for more time to work together as they both ran into the same space. The Pole/German ended up shoveling a weak shot into Mignolet's torso, but better communication would surely have resulted in a clearer scoring chance.

Sunderland were firmly on the back foot, and more chances came for the Gunners. Theo Walcott managed to win a header off of a great cross from Cazorla, but he skied his effort over the bar. Seconds later, a rasping shot from Diaby was smartly turned around the post by the Mignolet.

The Mackems' resistance stiffened at that point, and while they never fashioned a chance of their own after McClean's early effort, they also clamped down Arsenal's attacks for the remainder of the half. That said, one run by a Sunderland player was brilliantly corralled by a lung-busting effort from Gervinho to get back to his own penalty area.

That, friends, is indicative of a serious sea change that has happened to our club (all for the better) for this upcoming campaign. I'll elaborate on that more in a bit, but a club in crisis doesn't have their center-forward killing himself to break up a play 70 yards from where you'd expect him to be.

Halftime came and went, and while Arsenal began the second half with as much of the ball as they had in the first stanza, the energy levels just weren't there. Cazorla continued to pull the strings in midfield, but there was a focal point missing to our attacks. Sunderland weren't really ever in trouble as the Gunners probed at the edge of the penalty area. Gervinho faded somewhat, and Walcott was only ever on the periphery.

However, the young winger did draw a foul to give Podolski a chance from a set piece. The resulting shot had some pace on it, and Mignolet was surely relieved to see it go inches over the crossbar. That was to be his final contribution, as Giroud made his Arsenal debut in place of the German. Aaron Ramsey soon followed, with Diaby withdrawn before he could sustain another 193 injuries.

Still Arsenal struggled to break down the visitors, so Arsene Wenger made his third substitution very early by his standards. Strangely, it was Andrei Arshavin coming on in place of Walcott. Given his tenuous position at the club, I don't know if I'd have brought him on, frankly. Even Andre Santos out of position on the wing may have been a better option.

Giroud was the man of the moment though, and he arguably should have won the game for Arsenal on two occasions. First, he volleyed a Carl Jenkinson cross over the bar (and fair play to the kid, I barely noticed him today...I consider that to be a win). That was probably a tougher one to convert, but the subsequent chance was a more glaring miss. More great work from Cazorla sprung the big Frenchman, leaving him all alone on Mignolet with the goal gaping. Sadly, his composure abandoned him, and the shot was skewed well wide.

Much of the steam went out of the home side after that miss, and the remaining ten minutes or so fizzled out with little in the way of attacking threat on the Sunderland goal.

Still, as I alluded to before, there is little worry from this corner of Goonerdom regarding this upcoming season. Both in O'Hanlon's and in the Blind Pig for the post-match to-do, there was plenty of chatter around the idea that this wasn't a bad result, and that there's just a different feeling around Arsenal these days. You know what? They're right.

Yes, Giroud's miss was pretty bad. Yes, a home draw against Sunderland isn't the greatest result in the world. But, would you trade places with Liverpool right now? With Spurs?

The fact of the matter is that Arsenal played reasonably well, but the visitors executed their game plan well and Mignolet made a few decent saves. What probably won't get much play in today's match reports is that Arsenal were outstanding defensively. Mertesacker was especially impressive in breaking up the few attacks the Black Cats mustered, with Thomas Vermaelen often so high up he almost resembled a central midfielder. You know, like the guy we just pawned off on Barcelona for a ludicrously-high transfer fee (yet more brilliant business from our manager this off-season - my hat's off to him). Jenkinson was OK as mentioned, though Kieran Gibbs did struggle a bit on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the door may be open for Santos to start the next match.

So, no worries today, Arsenal friends. We have a long way to go, and unlike last season where the opening draw felt like a brief staving off of the inevitable, this feels more like we're revving our engines for better things to come.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 6, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Podolski 7, Arteta 7, Diaby 7 (Ramsey 6), Cazorla 8, Walcott 6 (Arshavin 5), Gervinho 7 (Giroud 6)

Man of the Match: You know what the great thing is about this season? I mean, the really, really, really great thing? We get to watch Santi Cazorla play football ALL YEAR. I, for one, can't wait.