ARSENAL 4 SUNDERLAND 1
Before the game I spoke about how the term ‘must win’ is over used, but that when you’re challenging for the title and playing at home to relegation strugglers then it’s very much a fixture you don’t want to be dropping points in. Thankfully we never once looked like dropping points, comfortably beating Sunderland by four goals to one.
For the first time in a while we really came flying out of the blocks and when Giroud netted inside the first five minutes, coolly slotting home after lovely work from Jack Wilshere, we had our first first-half goal since Bendtner versus Hull on 4th December. And having sat out our cup ties against Liverpool and Munich as part of his ‘refreshment plan’ it was also a much-needed goal for Giroud personally.
Olivier was soon doubling his tally for the afternoon when Rosicky and Podolski pressed high up the pitch, Vergini was forced to retreat, and then chose to blindly play a back-pass (to the returning Vito Mannone), which Giroud placed between Don Vito’s legs with a first time strike. It was all too easy. Then came la crème de la crème.
Our third goal was Arsenal at our very best; quick and incisive one-touch football. After Koscielny won the initial header in defence the ball was moved from Monreal to Arteta, onto Cazorla, who gave it to Wilshere, who burst forward before handing off to Rosicky, who played a beautiful one-two with Giroud whose perfectly weighted touch saw Tommy race through on goal and dink it delightfully over the on-rushing Mannone.
It was breath-taking stuff and for me our best goal of the season. The Wilshere goal against Norwich earlier this season demonstrated that we have this kind of goal in us, but that goal felt a little more reactive to me and by that I mean little instinctive flicks to react to the tight situation and the run of the ball. But this goal, this goal was proactive. We were driving forward, in control, with a clearly thought out move that was executed to perfection. It was superb.
Sunderland came out in the second-half looking a little more lively and threatening, but the game was put to bed (beyond all reasonable doubt) when Koscielny added our fourth just before the hour mark, heading home a Santi Cazorla corner. I do like the ‘BFG Flick-on’ routine, but sometimes it’s over used and John O’Shea was all over Mertesacker at times, so it was nice to see a bit of variety. So fair play to Santi for whipping in a dangerous corner and to Koscielny for finishing the job.
Sunderland got themselves a consolation late on; a fabulous strike from Giaccherini after Szczesny had punched the initial free-kick clear. Wojciech got decent height and distance on the punch, but given the time and space around him (and judging by the look on his face immediately afterwards) I’m pretty certain Szczesny will be watching the goal back on video and wondering why he didn’t just catch the free-kick. But I guess these finer details and learnings can be more easily digested when you’re already four goals to the good.
After defeat to Munich and with the Russians having fluked a win over Everton in the early kick-off it was important to respond and get the three points. That’s exactly what we did, and in emphatic fashion too; what’s not to love?
SAGNA AND ÖZIL
A couple of additional thoughts from the weekend, starting with Bacary Sagna. He started in his customary right-back position, was then moved to left-back, and finished the game at centre-back. Three positions, in one game, and he was equally excellent in all of them. Whatever he wants in his new contract Arsene, just give it to him.
And the other thought is regarding Mesut Özil. I thought Saturday was the perfect opportunity to give him a rest and to take him out of the spot light. Personally I think some of the criticism he’s received has been ridiculous. Yes he’s been far from his best, but even then he’s better than most (as some of his stats prove). Having been run into the ground all season I thought it was a well-earned and well-timed rest, and hopefully just what the doctor ordered as next up is Stoke City away on Saturday and that will certainly be a new ‘experience’ for him!
THERE’S ONLY ONE DENNIS BERGKAMP
Before the game the statue of Dennis Bergkamp was unveiled, with God himself in attendance. That thousands of fans turned up for the event and that everyone stayed in their seats during half-time in order to hear his on-pitch interview tells you everything you need to know about how much we all love Dennis.
I’ve been fortunate enough to witness many great Arsenal players in my time, but Dennis has to be the best. He was a genius, as simple as that. He helped to transform our club on and off the pitch and, as Arsene said in his press conference on Friday, he was also a loyal Arsenal man. There was no seeing out his playing career elsewhere due to longer contracts on offer or in search of one big final pay-day. No, not Dennis; he kept signing those ‘over 30’ one-year extensions because he is Arsenal. It was an honour to watch you play for our great club Dennis.