Arsenal were the weekends early kick off and travelled to Sunderland for a game we were expected to win comfortably, and although it turned out like that in the end, it was far from straight forward.
Sunderland are one of those teams that always struggle and are always fighting against relegation. David Moyes is a manager I don’t rate and it seems as if he’s ran out of ideas at Sunderland. Arsenal would top the league for a few hours at least with a win, and for 60 minutes it looked like we were heading for a routine win. But Arsenal fans by now know that a routine win is never on the cards!
Alexis Sanchez scored the only goal of the first half – a fantastic diving header from an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross. The first 45 minutes were what you would expect – Sunderland are lacking in any kind of confidence and were more than happy to sit back, keep the lines tight and suffocate Arsenal – keeping themselves in the game so they could nick a goal. Arsenal had plenty of possession but it was difficult to get through. We had a couple of decent openings, the best when Mesut Özil floated a beautiful ball over the top, only for Oxlade-Chamberlain to flash wide. You would have thought he would have done a bit better with the chance, considering his hot streak.
As it stood, we went into the half time break 1-0 up, and that’s always a dangerous scoreline.
The after the hour it all sparked into life. Alexis Sanchez was singled out for rough treatment all game and when his burst of pace saw him pass the Sunderland defender he was brought down. I didn’t need to see a replay of the incident as it was a stone wall penalty and I said so at the time. Replays did show it was a clear penalty but Martin Atkinson (who had a poor game) waved play on. I was still screaming at the television when suddenly down the other end a mistake by Mustafi lead to Arsenal conceding a penalty.
No arguments about the decision, and Petr Cech couldn’t have done anything about it after being put in a difficult situation. What we could feel aggrieved by though was the awful decision not to award Sanchez a penalty for a clear foul in the box moments earlier.
Jermaine Defoe stepped up and levelled the game. You had that sinking feeling that Arsenal had shot themselves in the foot once again and would be leaving the Stadium of Light win a point instead of all three. But then Arsene brought on Olivier Giroud.
Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s main striker this season and Arsene has opted to go with pace on either side, with Mesut Özil just in behind pulling the strings. It is a system that has worked really well this season, and wide options include Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (as well as Lucas Perez before his unfortunate injury). This has left Olivier Giroud out in the cold (even though he’s been injured) but he really stepped up this afternoon!
He scored with his first touch, a lovely sweeping finish with his left foot from a Kieran Gibbs cross and then 5 minutes later he scored a trademark header from a Mesut Özil corner.
That put Arsenal in the driving seat and then Alexis Sanchez put the icing on the cake with another, giving Arsenal a 4-1 win in the process.
It was an excellent introduction from Olivier Giroud, and his impact on the game will certainly give Arsene Wenger a big headache. Although it could be argued that Olivier Giroud is Arsenal’s perfect Plan B – something we haven’t had at our disposal in a long long time.
And finally a word on Kieran Gibbs, who was fantastic today. Obviously he lost his place to Nacho Monreal a while ago but he’s kept his head down, worked hard and never moaned once about it. Then when he gets his chance he’s put in two excellent performances. It was his brilliant cross that Olivier Giroud scored the goal which put Arsenal back into the lead – and what an important goal that was.
From what I’ve seen Kieran Gibbs is a completely nice, down-to-earth guy and he really is a role model to young professionals. And clearly Gibbs has given Arsene something else to think about!