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Reflections on Sunderland: The Late Show w/ Cesc Fabregas
I thought it would be a good thing to take a day or two before reflecting on the Sunderland match. Besides, Arsenal blog crawlers had more than enough to sort through as most Arsenal blogs once again spelt out their doomsday prophecies. Some would say how can they help it when Arsenal have just equaled their loss total for the entire previous campaign by the first week of October. And, of course, this is a fair question. Friends of mine know that when it comes to the Arsenal that I more than lean towards optimism. But even I have had a hard time seeing the silver lining in this cloud.
As always there are pros and cons to every match and this match was no different. Robin van Persie had what looked to be a legitimate goal ruled out when the linesman deemed the ball had crossed over the endline before Theo had cut it back perfectly in the path of the Dutchman’s near-post run. So while it is disappointing to drop two points at Sunderland, we should consider the following: Arsenal scored two legitimate goals to Sunderland’s one. We also showed that we have retained much of the character of the last year’s team in that we continue to score late, crucial goals.
More often than not, scoring more goals than your opponent is enough to win a match. On this day, it was not. Should we severely criticize the team for not having beaten Sunderland by two goals away on the first nasty weather day of the season. Should the linesman have gotten the call right, we would all be praising them for a fine win away up north in the cold rain. Should an officials’ error change our judgment or view of the team? I don’t think so.
Yes, we did not create as many chances as we would have liked, or even should have, but we did score twice, irregardless of the linesman’s error. This is small consolation in the league table though. I have also taken a bit of heart in that we saw a much better defensive display than we did against Hull City and that it took a quality (some would say, lucky) strike by Grant Leadbitter for Sunderland to get on the scoresheet.
The questions raised by the weekend, however, are many. Why didn’t Arsene start Nasri? Why play in such a defensive formation against Sunderland even if it was an away match in less-than-ideal conditions? Can we be surprised that we struggled to create consistent, quality chances by playing a formation with essentially two defensive midfielders and van Persie pushed out wide for alot of the time? Then again, shouldn’t we be able to beat Sunderland no matter what formation we play? Should Vela have come on and Denilson come off a lot sooner? It’s easy to second-guess the manager the day after the match, but these are, nevertheless, important questions. And then there is the most important question of all: How do we right the ship and get back on track?
One of the more perplexing issues of the season so far has been Denilson. He has 2 goals and 3 assists in seven matches in the league so far. The Actim Index places him at 6th in the league overall dropping two spots from 4th last week. Yet, most Arsenal supporters, myself included, wonder whether or not he is detrimental to the midfield as a whole. If we stop and think about this, it’s rather crazy. But we have become accustomed to midfielders in that spot who do not seek out their glory in numbers but, rather, in tackles, i.e. Vieira, Gilberto, Flamini. The numbers look very good for the young Brazilian but it’s what the numbers don’t show that have Arsenal supporters worried.
Denilson’s more attack-minded posture has restricted Cesc from going forward as he did last season. He doesn’t tackle nearly enough in midfield and Arsenal have already been caught out on two points-costing goals from an area outside the box which Flamini controlled for much of last season. It cannot be denied that the change in complexion of the midfield is having a profound effect. Last year, Arsenal had 3 of the top 5 passers in the league statistically in Fabregas, Hleb, and Flamini. Now that those two have gone, Arsenal have none in the top 20. This is especially worrying for a team whose whole footballing ethos is based on an intricate passing game.
Despite all of this, we are still in fourth place only four points off the lead. I, for one, am not going to throw in the towel on the season in the first week of October. That would just be ridiculous. It would be like declaring the third place runner in the 3rd mile of a 26-mile marathon had no chance to win. Though, even I must admit, the cup competitions look to be our best bet at silverware this season. There is still time to turn it around and that may or may not involve a January signing. Do you think Milan would be willing to loan Flamini back to us seeing as how they don’t seem to play him much? All joking aside, the team has looked strong in the Champions League so far this year and while I wouldn’t say I am putting all of my hopes in that competition, it is the one that I, as an Arsenal supporter for over a decade now, want to see the most, precisely because it is the one trophy that I, nor anyone else, have ever seen a Gunner raise in the air.