Sunday, December 06, 2015

Three Things: Arsenal Beat Sunderland 3-1 to Move to 2nd

For a third league game running, the Gunners gave back an early lead. Unlike the past two weeks, though, they were able to go on to win this one, with an assist to a Sunderland team that spurned a few good chances to forge ahead. Arsenal dominated possession for most of the game (to the tune of 73 percent), but were having trouble breaking through a well-organized Allardyce back five until the man of the season so far, Mesut Ozil, threaded a pass between two defender to set Joel Campbell in on goal in the 33rd minute. For the second time in his last three appearances, the Costa Rican International finished the chance to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead. Just before halftime, however, Giroud put the ball past Cech and into his own net, the fourth time the Gunners have done so this season.
The Frenchman made up for his error in the second half, though, as he headed a Ramsey cross past Pantilmon and into the net in the 63rd minute. Sunderland sculpted a couple more chances before the game finished, though Arsenal grew in stature and looked like a team worthy of all three points. Ramsey then put the game beyond doubt in the 93rd minute with a simple finish from close range. Three thoughts on the game:
1. Campbell Surprise; Rambo Rebound: Many think that Joel Campbell just doesn’t have the talent necessary to break into the first team at Arsenal, particularly when one considers the talented set of players he would have to supplant. But with Sanchez, Cazorla, Rosicky and Wilshere still out and Ramsey, Ox and Walcott just back from injury, it is clear he will get his chances over the next month. If he can continue to finish his chances as well as he did yesterday, and put in the complete performance that followed that goal, it might have been a good move by Wenger not to send him out on loan this season. Campbell was a revelation at the World Cup back in 2014 and certainly has the possibility to shape back into that form. Two goals in his last three is a good start.

The performance of Ramsey playing through the middle, as he prefers, in the absence of Cazorla will also give Wenger some hope that the Gunners can stay close to the top through the busy holiday season, possibly picking up a DM in the January window he so despises. Even as he claims to hate that window, there have been some good additions in the midseason of late; including starting left back Nacho Monreal and backup CB Gabriel. Ramsey’s late goal, while not terribly important to the result, complemented the assist on the go-ahead score and his overall performance reminded of his form almost two years back, when an early purple patch had the Gunners at the top of the table heading into the New Year. They will need he and a clearly-past-his-prime Flamini to play at their peak if they are to set themselves up for a sustained title chase in the second half. It might be their best chance in a decade.

2. Shambolic Defending Continues: November is over and the Gunners got back to winning ways after blowing a third lead in a row, but it was not without some more questionable defending. The difference this year is the solidity of the man marshaling the goal from the back. But even he could not stop a bizarrely mistimed clearance from Giroud on a corner that drew Sunderland even. Starting with the turn of 2015, Arsenal were playing much better defense, finding ways to win close games by defending vigilantly and sometimes even playing on the counter. Those days appear to be long gone, as teams are finding ways to get behind the Gunner defense far too regularly. The absence of Coquelin has contributed to the recent spurt of conceded goals that includes the one today, another against table struggling Norwich, two to an average West Brom team, one to Tottenham and the five-goal battering they took in Bavaria. Wenger will have to find a way to shore up the defense going forward and hope to avoid any further injuries.

3. Sunderland Have a Shot to Avoid Relegation: Sam Allardyce has never been relegated as a manager and though Sunderland lost all three points today, after two wins in a row, there were signs that he has improved a team that seemed certain to drop before he arrived. Even in only garnering 27 percent possession, Sunderland were even until the 63rd minute, with a few chances to go ahead. They mustered 11 shots (4 on target) against a nervous looking Arsenal defense, and just missed on a couple with Cech having another strong performance in goal to stop four himself. Sunderland were well organized playing on the counter and were able to get behind the Gunner’s defense on a couple of occasions. They will need some luck, particularly as Newcastle seems to have the requisite talent to maybe avoid the drop themselves, but on the evidence of the past three games, “Big Sam” might be at it again.

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