|Olivier Giroud reacts to missing his golden opportunity.|
Arsenal played its first game without striker Robin Van Persie on the first day of the
2012/13 season. German forward Lukas Podolski made his debut for the Gunners in the regular season. The German already played (and scored) against his former team FC Köln in a pre-season friendly. Frenchman Olivier Giroud played his first game for the Gunners after transfering from Montpellier, where he scored 33 goals in 71 matches. In addition, two Spanish players debutted for both Arsenal and Sunderland. The Gunners unveiled Santi Cazorla, who transfered from Málaga due to the team's financial problems, while the Black Cats brought former Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuéllar to the pitch.
The home team were strong from the very beginning and created numerous chances on the other half of the pitch. However, Sunderland made use of every opportunity they got, stalking Arsenal for any failed passes or possibilities to counter. Sunderland's James McClean had an early attempt that was saved by Szczęsny, but Arsenal fired back with a counter, forcing Mignolet to make a one-handed save. Jack Colback hit the ball low and hard after picking up a through ball from Stéphane Sessègnon, testing Szczęsny again. The match saw some lovely plays from Gervinho. He set up the ball for Cazorla on the 19th minute, but the Spaniard's shot went wide of the net. Abou Diaby's cross from the right side gave Podolski his first opportunity to score. He handled the ball rather poorly, and Mignolet got the ball out for a corner. Podolski and his German teammate Per Mertesacker played the ball well to Theo Walcott, who couldn't get ahold of it to take a shot. Cazorla gave Walcott another opportunity a few minutes later, but Theo just couldn't control the header. Diaby picked up the ball from Podolski after Mignolet's save, managing to eke out a corner. Walcott picked up the ball on the right side and delivered it to Podolski in much the same way he set up the ball for RVP last season; the German chipped it high, failing to make use of the attempt. Gervinho started up again on the left. The Sunderland defense was there this time and cleared the ball away. Much could be said about Arsenal's failed attempts against a largely defensive team.
The second half was a repeat of Arsenal's tactics. Cazorla picked up the ball from Gervinho and shot it wide. Lukas Podolski, whose free kick earlier on went high, delivered the ball to Walcott, whose shot ended up hitting the side netting. In an attempt to freshen up the attack, Wenger subbed out Podolski for fellow Frenchman Giroud. Wales captain Aaron Ramsey came on for Diaby as well. Unfortunately, Ramsey and Giroud made the same errors as Podolski; the latter had a great chance after his teammates lost the ball in the box, but he sent the ball high. It seemed as though Arsenal was having more problems breaking down the Sunderland defense than at the start of the match. Wenger's team had their best attempt on the 82nd minute, when Giroud's shot missed the wide open net. Both teams knew, however, that the game isn't over until the final whistle. Arsenal tried to make use of set pieces in added time. Sunderland's Cuéllar blocked Arshavin's shot after a corner. Kieran Richardson covered for the guests as well. Although Sunderland were not on the attack as much as the home team, their defense was superb and proved to be enough to prevent Wenger's side from taking three points.
Though the game saw no goals from either side, it was nice to see the EPL back in action. Both teams showed that English football is great to watch at any level. The refereeing is also incomparible with any other league.
Podolski, Gervinho, Cazorla, and Walcott were all great at distributing the ball, but the absence of an active forward was written all over the game. That's not to say that Arsenal did not have their home field advantage. Wenger's team were always on the attack; they just couldn't finish.
With the first game of the season, it's too early to judge whether Robin Van Persie's
transfer will have a negative impact on Arsenal's game. It's hard to put the finger of shame on one player when you take into account the team as a whole. Yet the Gunners are about to lose another talent as Alex Song prepares to sign for FC Barcelona this weekend. Looks like it'll be up to Lukas Podolski, Gervinho, and Olivier Giroud to net some balls in. Arsenal fans will be patiently waiting.
English Premier League
Saturday, August 18, 2012, 10:00AM EST
Arsenal vs. Sunderland - 0:0 (0:0)
Arena: Emirates Stadium (Holloway, London, England). Attendance: 60,078
Referee: Chris Foy (Lancashire, England)