Arsenal fans waited with bated breath to see Mesut Ozil, and what a performance he gave on his debut!
The occasion was perfectly set for the Gunners. After an unwanted international break prolonged the supporters’ sweet agony of not being able to watch their star signing play any time soon, Mesut Ozil’s debut game had transformed a historically drab match up between the north London giants and the humbler club from the north west into the match of the weekend.
The buildup to the game, though filled with positive hype and anticipation, had brought some worrying news for the Gunners. Tomas Rosicky had sustained an injury, and Per Mertesacker, who had been particularly impressive in the opening games of the season, had caught a flu and the duo was out of the side.
With Thomas Vermaelen returning from a long term injury, the Centre Back position looked the most susceptible to opposition attacks, even though Bacary Sagna had given a good account of himself in that role whenever called upon.
However, Sunderland posed a different challenge in the form of Jozy Altidore. The big American had gained enormous experience and confidence by playing in the Eredivisie last season and was anticipated to be the main threat to the makeshift backline of the visitors with his strength and pace. Sunderland though, were yet to win a game this season with the manager Paolo di Canio under fire from both the media and the fans.
The game started predictably with Arsenal controlling possession comfortably. Sunderland were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure, only threatening to break out with David Vaughan playing hopeful long balls in the direction of Altidore. The Arsenal defence was happy to play him offside whenever a long ball was played.
Meanwhile, Arsenal were looking sharp and crisp with their incisive passing and quick off-the-ball movement. Giroud was running around, trying to dislodge the Sunderland defence, while Ozil, on his debut, started very high up on the pitch, making short, quick passes forward.
During the initial 10 minutes of play, most of Arsenal’s constructive play came from the left side of the pitch, with Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs linking well with each other. But a clear cut opportunity failed to present itself with Sunderland parking the bus in front of the Arsenal front five.
The breakthrough, ironically enough, came from a rare Sunderland venture forward when Gibbs got the ball to the left of the Arsenal penalty area and played it over the heads of the Sunderland players with some venom behind it.
With Ozil making a run down the left side of the pitch, it seemed a very difficult ball to control with all the power behind it. However, this was Mesut Ozil. With all the class even 42.5 million can’t buy, he caressed the ball out of the air and on to the ground, and played it square into the area in front of the onrushing Olivier Giroud who slotted home a neat finish for his 4th goal in 4 games. 1-o to Arsenal.
It was the perfect scene for the plot. Olivier Giroud continuing his brilliant form, Ozil doing something magical on his debut and Arsenal ahead.
Arsene Wenger could afford another smile and the travelling support was singing Giroud’s name. Arsenal seemed to have found an extra spring in their step and were turning away from tackles like it was their second nature.
In one such attack, the ball fell to Ozil near the half way line, with a defender breathing down his neck. Two seconds later, he had dislodged an inch perfect through ball for Walcott who had made a run into the penalty box. With just the keeper to beat, the winger hit it straight at him. A disappointed sigh escaped the lips of every yellow jersey in the stand.
A second opportunity, similar to the last one, presented itself again when Theo was let free into the box from another through ball from Ozil, and again, to the agony of everyone not watching the game as a Sunderland fan, the result was the same. And when the whistle went for half time, the scoreline betrayed the truth, Theo Walcott being the main culprit.
With the sheer dominance displayed in the first half, Arsenal were tipped for an easy win. However, the second half was as far from what was anticipated.
Sunderland started tough, and pressed Arsenal hard, in contrast to their first half strategy of sitting back. The players looked energized from the half time team talk and Altidore was in the thick of the action. The centre forward was proving to be too hot to handle for the Arsenal defence with his strong running with the ball and his brilliant hold up play.
The tables seemed to have turned with Sunderland now the team looking most likely to score the next goal, and that is exactly what happened.
With Altidore on the ball, the defensive shape of the Gunners was lost for once, with Laurent Koscielny left to deal with him alone inside the box after Sagna had failed to snatch the ball from him.
Koscielny went into the tackle and tripped Adam Johnson inside the area for a simple penalty decision for the referee. Craig Gardner slotted the spot kick home to agonize the Arsenal fans further, who were already beginning to rue their missed chances.
The Sunderland onslaught continued, but the Black Cats were caught surprised when a hopeful cross from Carl Jenkinson found Aaron Ramsey with his first time shot.
The Welshman spectacularly volleyed the ball into the back of the net. Arsenal were leading again, but this time, more by chance rather than creativity.
However, the joy was seriously threatened when Altidore again found space at the edge of the box, wrestling easily away from Sagna, amid protests from the Arsenal players and slotted the ball inside the goal line before the defender cleared it out with a diving kick.
Sunderland, and everyone else in the stadium had thought that it was the equalizer, but Martin Atkinson had other views and instead pulled the play back for a free kick against Sagna on the edge of the box. Controversy galore. Adam Johnson skied the set piece.
The result was settled when after some nifty passing by Arsenal in front of the box, the ball was sent to Ozil who played it to Giroud, who passed it into the path of Aaron Ramsey who had timed his run perfectly through the defensive line. Ramsey slotted home from under the keeper for his brace while Arsenal fans jumped with jubilation.
The scoreline was 1-3, and Sunderland were down and out of the competition. Another opportunity presented Arsenal when Jenkinson crossed from the right towards Olivier Giroud, who tried to stretch too much to meet the ball and in the process, seemed to have pulled a muscle. With no senior striker fit in the squad, Wenger was prompt in substituting the striker for the young Chuba Akpom.
The four minutes of added time passed without much action except from the sidelines where Paolo di Canio was ticked off by the fourth official for being too vocal against the referee, allowing Arsenal to waste time on injuries. This was another in a chain of bad days at the office for the mercurial manager.
On the other side, Wenger was looking composed in his suit. As the full time whistle blew, all the focus was on Aaron Ramsey with his two goals. The second half was anything but like the first. Arsenal were lucky throughout the match, though poor finishing from Walcott almost let them down.
However, the occasion was set up for one man and he rose up to it magnificently. Mesut Ozil.