Thoughts: Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

Arsenal failed to make their 70% possession count as Sunderland put in a gritty defensive performance to emerge from the Emirates with a deserved 0-0 draw. It was a pretty straightforward tactical battle; Sunderland defended with two lines of four to restrict the space Arsenal had to play in while the Gunners controlled possession and looked to use quick passing to find gaps in the defense. Here are some of the more interesting developments and observations I noticed.
  • The Wearsiders were content to get all 11 men behind the ball and force Arsenal to patiently pick them apart. They looked to counter through Sessegnon, McClean and Campbell and did so with some success early on. However, as the game wore on Arsenal closed off their outlet pass and Sunderland offered little going forward the final 65 minutes of the game. 
  • With Sunderland dropping deep in two banks of four to restrict the space Arsenal had to play in, it was important for the Gunners to find space in between the lines to unlock the compact defense. New signing Santi Cazorla did this with considerable success early on in the match, moving into pockets of space between the Sunderland back four and midfield. However, Lee Cattermole began getting tight on Cazorla and the Spanish midfielder found it more difficult to find the time for a cutting pass as the game went on. He still found ways to get on the ball, often coming deeper to receive it. He played a brilliant ball to put fellow new signing Olivier Giroud through on goal but the Frenchman, who had recently come on to replace Podolski at center forward, scuffed his effort wide. 
  • Despite starting as the loan center forward, Podolski often came very deep into the midfield to receive the ball. It’s understandable why he was doing this since the the central areas around the box were so crowded. However, it left Arsenal looking like they were playing a 4-6-0. The problem with that was Arsenal didn’t have anyone to stretch the Sunderland defense vertically and create space for Cazorla between the Sunderland back four and midfield. Giroud stayed closer to the Sunderland center backs which created more space for Cazorla and second half substitute Aaron Ramsey to float into. Ramsey got a decent look at goal from 18 yards out but his effort was extremely poor.
  • In the first half Arsenal looked more dangerous when they were able to win possession from the Sunderland midfield and break quickly towards goal with 3 or 4 passes. They struggled when Sunderland were able to get all 10 men behind the ball. I thought at halftime it might be a good idea for Arsenal to concede some possession to the Sunderland midfield and press a little deeper towards the midfield line, the thinking being that they could push Sunderland out of their defensive shell opening up space behind the Black Cats’ midfield to counter into with speed. Indeed, Arsenal seemed to use this strategy and the game opened up very slightly in the middle stages of the second half. However, when Arsenal were able to break they were missing the final ball or and the presence of a poaching center forward in the box to put the ball in the net.