Arsène, Use The Fourth As A Springboard For Better Things
Sunderland 1 – 2 Arsenal
1 – 0 McClean (70)
1 – 1 Ramsey (75)
1 – 2 Henry (90)
Had the Brothers Grimm written a football tale – Hansen and Gretel, anyone – the hero would return and score a last-minute winner in his final Premier League appearance. It would be too far-fetched to be taken seriously; it just could not happen, could it? It did, courtesy of a superb Andrey Arshavin cross, wonderful technique which Henry took advantage of to guide home. The maligned Russian rose to the occasion, providing an object lesson in delivering when it mattered as the clock ran down at The Stadium of Light. It was not, Mr O’Neill, “kind of lobbed” into the area; the player’s eyes and body focussed on making the cross count.
The match itself would have passed into the pantheon of undistinguished wins were it not for the significance of the scorer. In truth, Henry had done little since being introduced for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with twenty-five minutes remaining. When you score the winner, that matters little; Henry has been at the club for moments such as this and the one at The Emirates against Leeds. It is that quality that will be sorely missed when he departs later this week unless there has been a miraculous recovery of Marouane Chamakh’s confidence.
Before kick-off, the defeat of Liverpool had helped in the League; sixth place protected and with Newcastle visiting White Hart Lane, fifth was eminently achievable. Arsène would have probably settled for being level with Chelsea at the final whistle. Their continued implosion has given a psychological boost to the club with fourth place achieved this morning. That, according to the detractors, was an impossible dream for the club to aim at. This stage of the season means nothing; Arsenal can use the League position to push on though, consolidating that which they have whilst whittling away at the larger gap to third. Small steps.
Whilst Arsenal started brightly, Sunderland were not overwhelmed. Neither side created any chances of note although Vermaelen did have a header blocked from van Persie’s corner. Szczesny was untroubled even when Campbell robbed Koscielny of possession, the shot deflected wide. Walcott was then released on the right by van Persie, drilling his shot across the face of goal and wide. Mertesacker might have conceded a penalty were the official of less strong will, the ball bouncing into his arm rather than deliberately controlled by the German as the interval cast its shadow on proceedings.
As the hour mark approached, the game sprang to life. Gardner brought a save from Szczesny with a rasping drive. The Pole fumbled the initial block, grateful that the ball span into the air and away from the goal with Campbell arriving to pounce. There was a mistake for the original save but Szczesny’s reactions were quick and vitally decisive. The earlier save from the same player was more confident, even if it was eventually negated by the offside flag. The inconsistencies of youth encapsulated in those two moments.
The Sunderland goal came with fifteen minutes left and summed Arsenal’s luck this season. Mertesacker was dealing with a routine interception from Sagna, corralling the ball back to the safety of Szczesny when he collapsed as a spent Jack In The Box. McClean saw the opportunity and seized it, driving his shot across the Arsenal goal into the far corner. Post match, Arsène was not optimistic in his prognosis,
Mertesacker told me that he got a shot in his ankle and couldn’t move at all anymore. We are a bit worried about his ankle I must say because he goes home on crutches. He has done some ligament damage, but how big that is we will have to check tomorrow. For sure he is out for Wednesday
It negates the positive reports over Jack Wilshere’s injury. Kieran Gibbs return though frees Thomas Vermaelen to partner Koscielny in the Italian Alps this week.
For some time the manager has been extolling the virtues of his squad’s mental strength. Yesterday they provided strong evidence of it. The ball broke to Aaron Ramsey on the edge of the area and his shot, with a touch of slice, left Mignolet stranded. The ball struck in the inner post, travelled the width of the goal before hitting its opposite upright and spinning into the net. A sign for the young Welshman that his luck is perhaps changing?
As Arsenal turned the pressure onto the hosts, van Persie could only guide a header at the Sunderland goalkeeper. It set the denouement that left the club in good health for the coming fortnight’s fixtures.