Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal: Enervation

Many of Arsenal's leading lights spent the offseason loudly clamoring for reinforcements to be brought in. Belatedly, that was done in the person of Mesut Ozil, arguably a top-10 player in the world today. To my eyes, that lifted his teammates to a match-winning performance that I believe would have been a draw or even a loss had he not donned the famous red and white.

Unquestionably, Ozil's signing has given the fanbase a jolt of adrenaline as well. I've been going to Arsenal matches at the pub for a good decade-plus, and I can tell you that Sunderland away is not typically a hot-ticket fixture. However, I got to the Pig in the 6th minute and literally had to elbow people out of the way just to get in the door.

Sometimes these marquee signings take a while to bed in, and that combined with the weight of expectation makes them ultimately disappointing in their debut. Ozil took about ten minutes to make a mockery of that potential outcome.

Kieran Gibbs began the move, punishing Sunderland's high line with a long ball into space on the left wing. Ozil nonchalantly trapped it on the dead run, let the defender commit, and then slid a perfect square ball underneath him.The timing was perfect, and was just far enough in front of Olivier Giroud where he could strike it first time. Similarly to his goal against the Scum, Giroud's redirection was perfectly placed in the near corner, leaving Kieran Westwood no chance in the Sunderland goal.

Arsenal were all over the home side, with the industry of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini giving Ozil room to pull the strings in midfield. Still, it was Sunderland who would have the next great chance, Modibo Diakite rising highest over Giroud on a corner kick. Thankfully, his header caromed off the crossbar and away to safety.

American goal-machine Jozy Altidore also had a long drive expertly palmed away by Wojciech Szczesny, but on either side of it Arsenal created the chances that should have put the game on ice. Ozil was unsurprisingly the catalyst, as he shredded the Sunderland defense with a through-ball to Theo Walcott. The Englishman was in alone on Westwood with all the time in the world - too much time, perhaps - and he could only shovel a shot right at the Irish keeper. That same pairing connected again in the 28th minute, and this time Westwood was off his line in a flash before Theo could react.

It isn't obvious from the description so far, but Sunderland were not that bad on the day. They had the courage to commit men forward and you could see them gelling into an effective unit later on in the season. Arsenal were just too good though, especially in the first half. Just before halftime, Giroud's knock-down to Wilshere was crossed to the back post, Theo in all the space he could want yet again. Yet again, his finishing let him down, though to be fair heading isn't one of his strong suits.

So, it was a storyline that we've seen all too much of in recent years - Act I being near-total domination over a weak opponent but without the goals to show for it. When Act II (a ridiculous moment of defense idiocy leading to an equalizer) followed early in the second half, we could be forgiven for assuming the worst.

A Sunderland corner was cleared out poorly by (I think) Giroud, and the follow-up header was underhit by Gibbs. The Black Cats looped it into penalty area for Adam Johnson, with Laurent Koscielny in attendance. The Frenchman panicked, not realizing that Gibbs was backing him up. Johnson was hauled down, and Martin Atkinson rightly called the penalty. Craig Gardner sent Szczesny the wrong way, and more dropped points in the northeast looked to be on the horizon.

But, I never felt like that, though. Arsenal looked lively and mostly made the right decisions, even if the execution wasn't always there. Someone needs to have a word with Gibbs though - he was open in or near the penalty area several times and should have had a go.

Meanwhile, the home side did threaten on the counter several times. Steven Fletcher bundled in off penalty-area scramble, but he was miles offside in the build-up. Later, a free kick eluded everyone, hit the post and went out. However, the offside flag was up on that occasion too. This was mostly sound and fury signifying nothing, but Sunderland did have an goal later on that should have stood. More on that in a bit.

Arsenal would first shake off their second-half doldrums to take the lead, though. Wilshere surged at the Sunderland defense, and passed to the overlapping Carl Jenkinson. The Corporal took a touch, looked up, and curled a beautiful cross in to the top of the area. Ramsey hit a howitzer of a volley into the far corner, Westwood again with a snowball's chance.

Sunderland didn't waste time going after the equalizer, and they should have had it minutes later. Altidore tussled with Sagna, muscled him off, and slid the ball past the advancing Szczesny. Atkinson blew for the foul in the initial run though, when he should have played an obvious advantage. That had to be deflating to the Black Cats, and it is perhaps not surprising that Arsenal got the third soon after.

Walcott made up for his earlier profligacy by expertly tapping a big switch to the right wing. He played it back into the center, and a few quick passes later Giroud sent Ramsey in alone with a deftly-played touch. The Welshman took his time and calmly steered it past him. That was a great team goal, the side-to-side movement stretching Sunderland's defense and giving Ramsey the seam to exploit.

There may have been 15 minutes to play, but the game was over at that point. Sunderland could offer nothing further besides Paolo Di Canio hilariously being sent off. Thomas Vermaelen made his return to shore up the defense, and Nacho Monreal made a cameo as well. More worryingly, Giroud limped off right at the end, and was replaced by Chuba Akpom. Hopefully he is OK, as the first half showed us the possibilities of his partnership with Ozil.

So, the Umlaut Era begins with a solid win, and a tantalizing view of things to come. Chelsea have lost, City have drawn, and we are still top of the league. It's not a bad time to be a Gooner, is it?

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7: Should have done better on the free kick that hit the post, but was rock-solid otherwise.

Gibbs 7: Excellent assist on the first goal, but could have been more direct at times offensively and was partially at fault for the goal.

Koscielny 6: Brain-dead penalty to concede, but he had a decent game otherwise.

Sagna 7: Once again, did well in an unfamiliar role. He continues to grow into it, though.

Jenkinson 7: Excellent cross for the second goal, was caught out a few times defensively but nothing too major though.

Flamini 7: Did what was required. In the absence of Arteta he's proving to be an inspired signing so far.

Wilshere 7: He's still only showing flashes of what he's truly capable of, but he was tenacious on defense and contributed to some of our best passing moves.

Ramsey 8: That volley. My god, that volley. 

Ozil 8: Handled the expectations of his debut brilliantly. He ran out of gas somewhat in the second half, but if this is what he can do when he's playing with an illness, I can't wait to see what he can do when he's well.

(Vermaelen 7): Helped tighten things up in the back once we were up 3-1. Good to see the captain back, hopefully he's put last season behind him.

Walcott 6: Maybe should be a 5 for his woeful finishing, but he was in the right areas and on another day would have bagged a brace.

(Monreal N/A): Brief cameo, nothing more.

Giroud 8: Yet another excellent performance both on the scoresheet and with his hold-up play. He's become so critical for us, and it'd be a huge blow if he's out for any length of time. 

(Akpom N/A): I highly doubt he's ready for this level. Please be OK, Olivier.

Man of the Match:  Ozil was great on his debut, but it has to be Aaron Ramsey.