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Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland: Post-match observations

It was a largely-comfortable win for Arsenal as they head into the final weekend of the league season

Arsenal v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Arsenal strode to a 2-0 victory today versus a spunky, but putrid Sunderland side that will ply their trade in the Championship next season. Below are some of my observations from today’s win.

If you still doubt Mesut Ozil’s talent and contributions to this club, please stick your head into a working oven

Alexis Sanchez gets the majority of the plaudits, naturally, as the main goalscorer.

But if you’re still unable to see how Ozil’s ability to drift into space, provide accurate passes and crosses onto his teammates’ feet and heads, and be a general menace to defenses, then there’s not much I can really tell you at this point other than to pick another sport to follow, or that it’s time to drop your silly, inaccurate narrative surrounding the masterful German playmaker.

His run into space and cross to Alexis for Arsenal’s first goal was a thing of beauty that, I feel, gets taken for granted far too often by the majority of the fan base. It’s during times when he’s out of the lineup, or hurt, when his absence is largely felt. He might be considered by many to be a novelty player, but he’s a really damn good novelty player that provides so much to the rest of his teammates on a weekly basis.

Arsenal is still prone to very frustrating, easily-avoidable moments within matches

Throughout most of the match Arsenal controlled the tempo and should have scored quite a few goals in the first half. Yet their finishing left little to be desired, most notably Alexis and Kieran Gibbs going for the same, wide-open cross delivered by Granit Xhaka. The inexplicable Nacho Monreal back pass shortly after the restart that resulted in the rarely-seen indirect free kick from three yards out, which thankfully was headed over the crossbar and out of play by Xhaka.

The passing and player movement appeared as sharp as ever, and the new formation (more to come on that below) linked up with exact precision the back three and the forward three. The final ball in, though, missed far too many times for a team with Arsenal’s quality. When it did, moments like the hilarious fiasco produced by Gibbs and Alexis, or the missed header on goal by Olivier Giroud midway through the second half ensued.

Oh, and Aaron Ramsey went off hurt. Again. A frustrating encapsulation of his season, of Arsenal’s season, all within 90-odd minutes.

This new formation appears to be the long-term solution heading into next season

Listen, I know. Sunderland is not good. They are in last place and heading to the Championship for very obvious reasons that were on display today.

That said, there’s something about the movement and structure with this 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 that brings out the best in players such as Ozil (who’s allowed to drift wide and create chances and space for players like Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin), Alexis (who can dictate play both near the opposition back line as well as dropping deeper to defend and collect the ball – all while not affecting his team’s shape), and Xhaka (a player Arsene Wenger can push forward as he so chooses to maximize his passing while being comfortable in knowing he has defensively-astute players such as Ramsey and Monreal filling in his space when he ventures forward).

All of that fails to mention how this new formation has allowed Rob Holding to flourish into a very reliable right center back, and how Gibbs showed us today how a player like Sead Kolasinac will slot in very easily into this formation and provide a sense of balance needed when a player such as Bellerin is occupying the opposite position on the pitch.

Regardless of how the season ends for Arsenal and what competitions they’re in – or not in – next season, one would be dared, and probably feeling with ease, to say the future isn’t as bleak as most thought it was following results versus West Brom, Liverpool, Crystal Palace, and the like. How they continue to mold the roster according to the new and improved formation and tactics this summer will be quite interesting to follow.

All those empty seats is a completely ineffective protest by Arsenal fans

There were, by most accounts, up to 10,000 empty seats for today’s match, as many disgruntled ticket holders were choosing to withhold their presence at the stadium as a form of protest of the club’s shaky and unstable managerial and Board situations, as well as the table position, player performance, and God knows what else that’s triggered them as of late.

But do they really think the club’s overseers care that they’re protesting in this manner? The match was technically sold out, like nearly every other competitive match Arsenal’s had since they moved to Ashburton Grove in 2006. The money’s already gone into the club’s pockets and allocated long ago.

By all means this is not a request for more planes above matchday grounds, or longer Arsenal Fan TV episodes. But what does not showing up prove to the Board? The season ticket waiting list is approximately 50,000. Usually four thousand season tickets come available on a yearly basis, with the same number of people joining the list. What are these fans who protested with their absence trying to prove?

The club will have no trouble, whatsoever, filling those seats if the missing fans take their protest to the next level, which is a conscious failure to renew the tickets. I’m not sure what the best form of protest is, to be honest. The manner in which this season has played out has frustrated me more than any of the 17 previous seasons in which I’ve closely followed the club. But in no moment of time, from last August until now, have I ever thought Arsenal needed to be protested. At a certain point logic, I feel, will eventually win over in any and all future decisions to be made, given what’s at stake. That might make me an optimist, a romantic fan of yesteryear when things weren’t nearly as challenging to deal with. But I don’t truly believe decisions and choices have been, and will be made, with ill-intent at the forefront, and I don’t believe there’s been a rational reason to protest.