Aside from a profile I did on a Davidson swimmer last month, the last time I did non-academic writing was in early April. And it’s been even longer since I’ve written about Arsenal. The last time I wrote about the Gunners, Deflategate was just beginning. It was nine days before the Super Bowl. I’ve been watching most games, but haven’t had the time to write. But thankfully, summer has arrived. And with the domain name renewed for another year, I’m back at the keyboard.
I will save more general thoughts on the Arsenal season for the coming weeks, so today’s post will focus on today’s match against Sunderland. The 0-0 draw was a little dull, but deserved I felt. Arsenal lacked the level of play in midfield necessary to break the composed Sunderland defense down, and the finishing was rather poor.
The color commentator was complaining for much of the game that Arsenal weren’t penetrating enough and that they were out of ideas. I think that’s the easy way out when talking about Arsenal. What I saw was not a lack of ingenuity but rather a series of lapses on the critical touch. The players were making runs and getting in good positions, but either the return balls on the one-twos were slightly overhit, or touches were being spilled into Sunderland’s paths.
I really wish Arsene Wenger had used this occasion to rotate the squad and rest some of the key players. The way Sunderland was set up, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott could have done the job from the start. Their introductions ingested energy that the Gunners didn’t have. I’m glad he rested Francis Coquelin and Nacho Monreal, but Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla look a bit weary these days. The players are in that awkward stage where they want to avoid injury at all cost before the FA Cup yet don’t want to lose their place, so they keep things safe. And I think that’s why we’re seeing these languid displays.
Of the bottom end teams, I’ve always had the slightest admiration for the way Sunderland goes about their play at the end of every campaign. They might lack talent, but they fight together and get results. So despite my frustration with another lackluster draw, I’m happy for Sunderland. Let’s hope Newcastle goes down.
Player Ratings (1-10)
Olivier Giroud – 6.5/10 – Once again, Giroud failed to find the back of the net. He didn’t have a bad game, with some decent play in the box and a cheeky flick at the near post that demanded a smart save. But he needs goals. This series of lukewarm displays to finish the season surely won’t assure anybody that Arsenal don’t need a more prolific striker.
Alexis Sanchez – 5.5/10 – Sanchez is clearly worn down from all the games he’s played over the last 20 or so months. He isn’t moving with quite the same freedom and volition that he was months ago. And when presented with chances in front of goal, he’s hesitating and getting his shots blocked. A nice summer vacation will do him a lot of good.
Mesut Özil – 7/10 – Özil continues to wow me with how fluid he has become this year, both in his movement and his passing. Every pass looks safe not necessarily because it are easy, but because he creates passing the lanes. He had the ideas today, and on another day might have had a goal and an assist to show for it. If only that volley had fallen on his left foot instead of his right. It was good to see the home fans applaud him as he came off the pitch late.
Jack Wilshere – 6/10 – While we are beaten over the head with information such as that he hasn’t completed 90 minutes but once in the last 15 months, there is an element of truth in the fact that we can’t expect perfect performances until he sees more time on the pitch. So in that regard, getting the start today was valuable. But as far as gameplay, the ideas and drive are there but his touch is not. One particular instance in the first half said it all, as his first touch went straight at the keeper when he was in acres of space.
Aaron Ramsey – 6/10 – Ramsey was around the ball a lot and heavily involved, but he wasn’t at his best. I wonder if he couldn’t have gotten to any of those rebounds late on had his positioning been better. He does a lot of things well, but in games like this he can be frustrating.
Santi Cazorla – 6/10 – Pressed deeper today and in a more defensive role, Cazorla was solid, if unspectacular. The normally buzzing midfielder looks exhausted, and I hope he will be rested this weekend so he can be full of energy at Wembley. As he hit another low, long-range shot in the first half, it occurred to me that he isn’t hitting the stinging drives like he did in years past. And in the 89th minute, when he had a chance to hit one from the top of the box, he took a touch and the chance was gone.
Kieran Gibbs – 6.5/10 – Having spent just about all of the second half of the season on the bench, the rust was evident in a rare start for the fullback, especially when he wound up to shoot. However, the instincts are still there, and he was able to get forward down the left. And defensively, he had some timely interceptions.
Laurent Koscielny – 7.5/10 – Koscielny had little to do, but he managed a number of interceptions near the center of the pitch which kept possession for his side and halted counters.
Per Mertesacker – 7/10 – Mertesacker was assured in the air, but got found out by Fletcher’s pace on the counter attack early in the second half. However, he limited damage the rest of the way.
Hector Bellerin – 8/10 – Bellerin is a joy to watch. He made defenders look silly in the final third and clearly offered something different from the rest of his teammates. And his speed enabled him to get back on defense even after giveaways. His crossing is not quite at Bacary Sagna level, but it’s improved from where it was in the fall.
David Ospina – 7.5/10 – Ospina was untroubled in the first half but made two superb saves early in the second. The first was particularly impressive as he came out of his goal assuredly and met Fletcher at the top of the box. For me, this was one of his better games.
Theo Walcott (67th) – 7.5/10 – I’ve been down on Theo recently, but today he began to show the polish that has been lacking since his return from injury. He was more confident on the ball, and was woefully unlucky not to get a goal late on when he beat his defender and hit a wonderful shot across goal that Pantilimon got a hand to. Sunday’s Premier League finale would seem a great time to give Walcott a start.
Tomas Rosicky (81st) – 7/10 – He nearly won it with a left footed shot that went just wide, and got in a number of good positions in only ten minutes of action. It was the type of display that questioned why he hasn’t been playing recently given the lack of energy and drive in the midfield.