The stats for the game make for pleasant reading (and we know how much AW loves his stats) - we had an incredible 68% of the possession and a 52% territorial advantage. We had 16 shots (9 on target) to Sunderland's 6 (3 on target) and we completed 81% of our passes to Sunderland's 62%. So on that basis it would seem we thrashed them good and proper. Which just goes to show that few conclusions based entirely on statistics will be reliable.
Large periods of the game were very nervous for Arsenal, especially at the last 15 mins when our solitary goal did not look enough. Steve Bruce, to his credit, set his team up to counter-attack us, starting with both Jones and Bent up front, with some lively players in midfield such as Richardson and ex-striker Campbell. It was a sensible script for pug-face Bruce to follow, and when the highly-rated Kenwyne Jones was put through by Richardson after about 30 mins, it looked the familiar story. Amazingly, however, Alumunia was out quickly and forced Jones to shoot first time and the ball went wide.
Now that little incident summed Arsenal up, and also provides a reminder that you need some luck. Richardson had knicked the ball from Ramsey, who was caught in a daze. If Alumunia had done worse, or if Jones had done better, then Sunderland would have gone in half-time at 1-1 and would have probably deserved it. If Denilson had done the same as Ramsey, he would have been shredded by a pack of rabid dogs.
Anyway, back to more pleasant thoughts. Almost all of Arsenal's good work came down our right side. Eboue was nominally the right-back and was simply out-standing going forwards, the few defensive duties also shouldered comfortably. But this also allowed Theo Walcott to prosper in the wide right position, because unlike Sagna, Eboue can actually read the game further up the field and play a pass into the right areas for Theo to run onto. And boy is he quick. Just don't ask him to change direction or do anything with it other than run and shoot.
This season's chapter in the Mysteries of Emmanuel Eboue is a interersting one. Sporadically used by AW this year, Eboue has rarely figured in the team whereas he played in virtually every position last year. He still likes a dive, he is still a crazy loon and he is clearly not as defensively minded as Sagna, but the Eboue has put in performances from both right-back and right-wing this year that make it very hard to understand why he has not been used more.
Which brings me neatly onto the focus of my current frustration. The Nick Faldo of football that is Samir Nasri. Never have a seen a player who takes fewer risks with what he is trying to do. I know a lot of people like Nasri, and it is certainly harder to find major howlers in his performances than players like Denilson or Fabianski, but I reckon Samir Nasri is the toast of right backs up and down the country - a charming little fellow who never gives them a hard time.
And for the record, I will highlight the two moments of genuine brilliance from Nasri yesterday. In the first half he took a firm pass from Clichy and under pressure from Hutton (the lanky spud), brilliantly flicked it past him, spun on to his own pass, charged down the line and crossed to the back post. Great stuff. In the second half, he drifted in-field onto the edge of the box, looking for all the world like he was going to pass, but deftly flicked it into the box past the defender, charged through and then crossed it when a shot was probably on.
But that is a low return for our left winger against a player like Hutton, who is dreadful. Theo, on the other hand, was tearing up the right wing, involved in at least half a dozen moves that are worthy of note and if he could produce a better final ball, would have led to an impact on the scoreline. And lets not pretend for a minute that Theo is the finished article at this stage. Indeed, he is miles off it.
But the reason why I liked Theo and Eboue yesterday was that they, on several occassions, took their men on and tried to make something happen, rather than always play the percentage ball. Now normally, the percentage ball is the right option, but go back to the stats at the top of this page - we had 68% of the possession and only had 16 shots in the game. That is actually quite poor.
The other thing that infuriates me about Nasri is that he drifts inside almost constantly, thus forcing someone to play wider outside him. And with Nikki B on the pitch, this invariably means that you end up with Bendtner on the touch line crossing for the midget Nasri to try and head it, far more often than the other way round. I counted two crosses from Nasri yesterday in the whole match. Again, that is a low impact from our left winger.
What is also frustrating is that it is so damn simple for everyone to see that Nasri should stay left, and people will regularly criticise Bendtner for thinking he is Henry and trying to play on the wing, but it really is not Nikki's fault. As a striker, he is trying to create some movement for his midfielders to work off, and with Nasri playing so narrow, the space is where Nasri should be on the wing. I hesitate to guess that AW encourages them to do this.
The other point of note that Cesc gave himself an absolutely free role yesterday, playing as far up the field as he could, with Ramsey and Song behind him. And he did not have a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but playing so far up the field he has far less chance to influence the game in midfield, to pick the ball up and do something with it where it actually matters.
Because for 85 minutes of the game yesterday, this was pretty, pretty Arsenal football with very little bite. Take Theo and Eboue out the game and we created very little indeed. And be thankful that Kenwyne Jones missed a sitter.