Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland: Back on Track

Coming off of a trying series of matches that did not exactly go the way we wanted it to, the worst thing that could have happened was a game Sunderland squad tearing into us in fashion you'd expect from a side fighting for survival. Thankfully, they could not have offered less resistance had they stayed in their hotel this afternoon.

(Speaking of that series of matches - there was no Manchester United report because I was too nervous to wait until I got home from work to see the score, and there was no Bayern Munich report because one of my indoor soccer teammates ruined the result for me after a whole day of avoiding social media. Sorry, but life is too short to watch matches that you know have poor results ahead of time.)

The Black Cats set out their stall to defend early on, but did so in oddly-passive fashion. Normally, if you're going to do the 10 center-halves thing, you wait until the opponents get into the final third before fiercely pressing the ball-carrier. Here, Sunderland stood around and let Arsenal pass their way through.

That is a horrendous game-plan against this Gunners side, and our boys duly punished them for it early on.  Lukas Podolski fed Tomas Rosicky, who flicked it first-time to Jack Wilshere. No less than 5 Sunderland defenders converged on him, but he was still able to thread a square pass out to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman, having been abandoned by said 5 Sunderland defenders, was left with a fairly easy tap-in.

It should be noted, however, that old boy Vito Mannone did not make it difficult for him, either. There is a microscopic difference between a good goalkeeper and a great one at this level, often down to minor technical abilities. Sure, Ollie was going to score 8 times out of 10 there no matter what the keeper does. The difference between that 8 and a full 10 out of 10 is the fact that Mannone was already diving the wrong way when Giroud took the shot. Watch for this the next time you see Wojciech Szczesny in this position, or other great keepers like Thibault Courtois, Gigi Buffon, etc.

Sunderland responded to the goal by gingerly peeking their heads over the parapet, crossing over the halfway line like fugitives sneaking over a border without a passport. Marcos Alonso did take advantage of Bacary Sagna giving him the whole wing to work with to sneak a cross in that almost wrong-footed Szczesny. The Pole was able to come back across to smother, though.

We had no intention of easing off though, as Podolski stung Mannone's palms with a long-range effort soon after. Still, it looked like the visitors had stopped the bleeding enough to get back into the game. Then, one moment of slack play gave us the goal that killed off the match. Mannone played it out short, and under excellent pressure from our forwards it was passed back by Santiago Vergini. It was woefully under-hit though, which allowed Giroud to rush in and poke it past Mannone. Continuing our theme - Mannone probably had no chance, but he was also slow off his line and indecisive once he did come out.

Previously this season, our guys would tend to ease off and try to see the match out from there - you'll note that we haven't crushed too many opponents so far. This time, the Arsenal kept going and bagged a third shortly before the interval. What a goal it was, too.

It came right through the middle, Wilshere starting it with a pass to Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard returned it, and in turn Wilshere flicked it out to Rosicky. Tomas played a one-two with Giroud, eviscerating the Sunderland backline. Mannone was slow coming out once again, allowing Rosicky to guide the ball over his dive and in. The speed and precision were impeccable, and I would like to note for the Giroud haters that this goal wasn't possible without his quick pivot back to Tommy.

The second half was largely a procession, played out mainly because the Laws dictate that Arsenal couldn't declare after their innings. Injuries became the main storyline from here, beginning at halftime when Nacho Monreal came off for Carl Jenkinson. I didn't see Nacho struggling at any point, but it bears watching all the same.

To their credit, Sunderland didn't stop fighting. Borini tested Szczesny with a hard shot at his near post, which the keeper saved comfortably. Up the other end, their defense was still an absolute shower - Vergini's bad day almost got worse as his attempted clearance shanks behind. It was so close to a wonder volley into his own net. It merely delayed the inevitable though. On the resulting corner, Koscielny's late run darting to his right saw no one follow him, leaving him in acres to nod home the fourth.

Only then did Arsenal back off a bit, stroking the ball around at their leisure as Sunderland stood there and watched. Still, Koscielny managed to pick up a knock, Mathieu Flamini coming on in relief. That meant that poor Sagna had to play his third position of the day, moving to center-half as Flam slotted in at left back. The visitors took advantage almost immediately, a cross from the left causing trouble with Mathieu too far off of Sebastian Larsson. It was cut back to Ki-Sung Yeung, but Szczesny was able to save his near-post effort comfortably.

Those chances were intermittent at best though, the Gunners as firmly in control as you'd expect when there are passages of play with 40-50 passes consecutively without reply. The substitute Serge Gnabry almost made it five when Wilshere played him in, but he got the ball tangled up in his feet.

It looked like 4-0 would be the final, but sadly, the clean sheet was not to be. Sunderland found a solitary moment of magic to beat Szczesny, though he was partially the author of his undoing as well. Larsson, who barely missed on a free kick a few minutes before the goal, played in another dangerous ball from a set piece. Szczesny punched it out when he probably should have caught it, but it was still a good distance out. Emmanuele Giaccherini had it all to do, well outside the area and out to the right. He hit the absolute crap out of it though, and it arrowed through the bodies in the penalty area to nestle in the far corner.

That doesn't take too much sheen off of the result, though. This side badly needed a fillip after the last few weeks, and they got it today. Arsenal have mostly won the matches they should win this season, this one included. We can only hope they can keep it up long enough to make up for the indifferent performances against the rest of the big boys. And, we can only hope that Monreal, Koscielny and Wilshere are all OK - we can't afford any more absences.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 7 (Jenkinson 7), Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 8 (Flamini 7), Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Wilshere 8, Podolski 7, Rosicky 8 (Gnabry 7), Cazorla 7, Giroud 8

Man of the Match: Screw the haters - Olivier Giroud, all day.