Star attraction Mesut Ozil shone early on his Premier League debut, but by the end it was Aaron Ramsey who had stolen the show with two goals to give Arsenal a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Ozil’s performance, especially in the first half, every bit warranted the massive excitement his signing has generated in Arsenal’s superstar-starved fans. The recent recruit from Real Madrid set up Olivier Giroud to give the visitors an early lead and, as he enjoyed unfathomable space afforded him by a listless and disorganized Sunderland, would have had several more assists had Theo Walcott not been so profligate in front of goal.
Sunderland were a different team after the restart and got back on level terms early in the second half through Craig Gardner’s penalty after Laurent Koscielny’s poor challenge on Adam Johnson. But Arsenal recovered thanks to Ramsey continuing his rich vein of form with two fine strikes to give his side the three points. Yet Sunderland have right to feel aggrieved at referee Martin Atkinson pulling play back for a free-kick instead of allowing Jozy Altidore’s effort to stand that would have made the score 2-2. Paulo di Canio’s frustration boiled over at the end and the Sunderland boss was sent from the dugout.
Yet, in truth, Sunderland should first be taking a long hard look at themselves for a disheveled first-half showing. Arsenal had all manner of space in which to play and their new signing was taking advantage and pulling the strings. Indeed, within 11 minutes the £42.5 million man had made his mark on the Premier League. With Sunderland caught on the break, Ozil delightfully took down Kieran Gibbs’s early pass forward down the left with a real touch of class. Having taken a quick glance into the box, Ozil immediately squared the ball right into the path of Giroud who side-footed home for his fourth goal in as many Premier League games this season.
That fine work was almost immediately undone as Arsenal defended slackly from a corner and Modibo Diakite headed across the crossbar from inside the six-yard box. But Arsenal’s greatest failing in the opening period was that they were unable to take any of the raft of chances that followed.
By far the biggest culprit was Theo Walcott. On two occasions Ozil played inch-perfect through balls to set up the winger but each time Walcott’s shot lacked composure and Kieran Westwood was able to make the save. Walcott had further chances too. He should have done much better than head wide from Jack Wilshere’s chipped pass, while he wastefully attempted to cross rather than shoot when well positioned.
Those misses suddenly appeared as if they would prove costly when Sunderland equalized just three minutes into the second half. The home side had come out with a real purpose after the restart as they finally put their opponents under some kind of pressure both with and without the ball.
The goal, though, owed much to the recklessness of Koscielny. The French center-back lunged completely unnecessary to challenge Johnson, who was going away from goal on his weaker foot, and, while contact with the ball may have been made, it could not have been done so without first taking down the player. Despite the protests, a penalty was duly awarded and Gardner struck it into the net just minutes after coming on.
Sunderland continued to pose more of a threat, but Arsenal’s greater quality in the final third proved telling. The crucial goal came at the halfway point of the second period and it was some strike by Ramsey. Carl Jenkinson spotted the rejuvenated midfielder on the edge of the box and he met the chipped bass with a stunning volley low past Westwood.
Di Canio, though, may well reflect that the defining moment had yet to come. Bacary Sagna committed a clear foul by dragging Altidore back on the edge of the box, but had the referee allowed play to continue then the American striker’s shot that just squirmed over the line would have pulled his side level.
Instead, it was in vain and in a matter of minutes the result was effectively put beyond doubt. A fine passing move saw Ozil find Giroud, who laid it first time into the box for the confident Ramsey to stroke low into the net.
That was enough to give Arsenal their third straight Premier League win, while Sunderland remain on just a solitary point. Arsene Wenger’s side, still have work to be done, but look to be on the up. He will now hope that the knee problem that forced Giroud off late on does not add to Arsenal’s injury woes.