06 December 2015

Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland—x things we learned

There were far too many squeaky bums and clenched sphincters in the first half for anyone's likings, but there's no panning the results once we turn around and have a look at hot it turned out. On a weekend when all of our key rivals save Leicester dropped points, it was vital that we return to winning ways, all the more so when facing a Sunderland side struggling to stave off relegation. That we were far from our best is beside the point; that we found a way to fight through a dodgy first half to win is what really matters. Sometimes, after all, the mark of a contender is in its ability to slog through and still emerge victorious. It ain't pretty, but dammit, it's still three points. What are the x most-important takeaways?

We're going with x because, let's face it, it's just as arbitrary as, say, five. What's more, once you label me, you negate me. Or something. Herewith, then, are the takeaways.

Petr Čech was £10m well-spent.
Time and time again, he was called on to make vital saves, thanks in part to Sunday League defending among our own. I lost count of how many times Čech saved our hash, and it's a shame he lost his chance to pick up another clean sheet to equal David James's Prem League record. Despite that, he's more than proven his value to the squad, directly earning us as many as eight points thus far through vital saves such as those he made against Sunderland, not to mention the immeasurable boost in confidence and stability he's offered. Anyone still wondering whether we strengthened the squad over the summer should consider the contrast in fortunes between the club he left and the club he joined. Courtois and Begovic are fine keepers, but Čech has shown that he's more than a cut above them.

Ramsey in the middle just feels right...
We've all known full-well that Ramsey on the right just ain't right, but there have been few other places for him on the pitch, given the success of the Coquelin-Cazorla pivot. It's been a symbol of Arsène's faith that he's played Ramsey out of position, admitting that the Welshman is one of our best and should be on the pitch, positions be damned. On this day, we started to see a second coming, a resurrection, of the Welsh Jesus. His pairing with Flamini was far from perfect, but he got forward and discombobulated Sunderland's defense, very nearly scoring from a too-crisp cross from Monreal, assisting on Giroud's goal, and making the unselfish decision to pass to Walcott in the box—which would pay off in spades seconds later as he netted from Chambers's cross-cum-shot to make it 3-1. All too often, we've seen Wreck-it Ramsey, the reckless "see ball, shoot ball" Ramsey as he pressed too hard to find the form that made him the darling of the 2013-14 season. His assist and goal—the latter inspiring Arsène into a gleeful little hop—remind us that all is not yet lost.

Özil.
What more is there to be said? He's now scored or assisted in nine of our last ten matches. If that doesn't quite convince, well, consider this: he's scored or assisted in 13 of 20 appearances to date. Keep in mind, he's not just providing scoring chances to the likes of Alexis. He's providing scoring chances to Giroud, Walcott, Campbell, Monreal, and others. Each of them is a fine player in his own right, but none of them is Ronaldo. Özil is starting to show growing signs of confidence with his new role. He's no longer content with the comfortable galáctico role he'd played once upon a time, when almost any pass forward would result in a goal for #7. He seems increasingly comfortable, if not yet quite commanding, as the puppeteer, pulling all of the strings and threading all of the perfectly weighted passes.

Giroud goes from goat to gallant.
When he conceded the own-goal, the wags and punters among us might have delighted in suggesting that he had gone near-post again. He would later make amends, nodding home from a sharp angle on Ramsey's cross, reminding us that he's scored more Prem goals since 2013 than anyone not named Sergio Agüero. What's it going to take for the buteur du charme to prove that he's more than just a pretty face, a sculpted abdomen, a chiseled jaw, a—just stop. Week in and week out, he Greco-Roman wrestles with the Prem's burliest defenders in order to create space and chances for our flittier flouncers, and all he gets is grief. Asking him to be more clinical is akin to asking someone to balance a fork over a glass with only a toothpick after doing 200 push-ups. The man is a gladiator. Ask Agüero or Kane or Vardy to fight the same fight and score at the same rate and see what you get. No one battles in the trenches as much as Giroud. It's only fitting then that he scored the winner (and almost netted again minutes later only for Yedlin to clear it off the line).

The squad as a whole showed remarkable resilience.
How many times have we conceded a sloppy goal? How many times have we let an admittedly inferior squad score in the waning minutes of the first half? All too often, even if Sunderland are the first. The difference here today was that we didn't crumble. On previous occasions, you could almost register the collapse in confidence after we'd concede. Not today. It seemed like everyone, including Giroud and Čech, treated that own-goal for what it was: a freak accident. On those previous occasions, there was an apparent tendency among the fans and the players on the pitch to treat such moments as omens rather than outliers.  Indeed, mere moments after conceding, we poured forward and very nearly scored again, with Ramsey putting the aforementioned cross in from Monreal into the side-netting. In short, this squad was not about to roll over and play dead as we've so often seen in the past. It roared back to life and ran rough-shod over our putative rivals.

Right. Remember a few days ago, when everyone was up in arms over the state we were in? Well, we're now sitting second, behind high-flying Leicester (who might just have one of the worst string of upcoming fixtures ever drawn up). Yes, we have injury-woes, but so does Man City. We do have to fight through December, which includes a bum-clencher at Olympiacos, but we also have key players itching to rejoin the fray. Ramsey and Walcott, to name just two, were vital. Alexis, rested this week, should return sooner rather than later. Wilshere and Welbeck lurk later in December. In short, we're gathering strength. This result might be just the beginning.