February 15, 2013

I'm going to comment on a long-standing media-induced myth here. Ready? No one "likes it up 'em." This isn't an Arsenal thing, this isn’t a Sunderland thing. Nobody likes getting beaten to a pulp. It's how you react to it that counts.

Take hockey for example. For decades – generations even – no team could really expect to win a Stanley Cup without having the requisite goon on their bench. A big, tough, and sometimes remarkably unskilled player who was kept around for the sole purpose of keeping the opposition honest – and maybe delivering a big hit on the other team's star player. When a team didn’t have one of the Hanson Brothers in their line-up they were often called soft and given little chance of making it through the "second season" in one piece.

But the reality isn’t that the players on the team were cowering in fear, they just couldn’t dish out the punishment in the same way. They just needed to stand up to the abuse and show fight in some other way. Such as taking advantage of mistakes and using creativity and playmaking to grind out a win.

Which is exactly what Arsenal did against Sunderland. The Black Cats played a rough and tumble game and I lost count of the (uncalled) fouls well before the break. But Santi Cazorla took advantage of a small Sunderland misstep to give Arsenal a very much deserved 1-0 lead after 35 minutes. (Former Gunner, current Arsenal scout and all-around good guy Danny Karbassiyoon deconstructed Cazorla's goal. It's well worth a look!)    

Of course it wouldn’t be that easy. Five minutes into the second half, Jack Wilshere had to leave the game and was replaced by Abou Diaby. And 12 minutes later, Arsenal had to make additional changes with the dismissal of Carl Jenkinson for a second yellow card. Sunderland very much went for the win, but Arsenal's defense, led by Bacary Sagna at center half and Aaron Ramsey at right-back more than held their own. We also witnessed one of Wojceich Szczesny's finest games in some time.

Despite ruing that his side could only net the one goal, Arsène Wenger was thrilled with his team's resilient, committed play. "You saw today that the team is up for a fight," he said after the match. "Without that, we wouldn’at have got the three points today."

Man of the Match Szcsesny was full of praise for his teammates, and singled out Sagna saying he "cleared everything that came into the box." It was an impressive performance – especially when you conside that he literally had about 10 minutes to prepare. Laurent Koscielny was supposed to start, but had to pull out after the team sheets were submitted. And Sagna was the topic of a lot of conversation afterwards. Wenger, on the other hand, was not surprised. “I always thought he could play there one day,” he told Arsenal Player.

So not only did Arsenal hang on with 10 men, they did it with two of the back four playing out of position, and another defender playing in only his second game with the Club. It's just another sign that this Arsenal squad is playing with confidence.

One reason for that could be related to something Sagna said during an exclusive interview on Arsenal Player. After relying so much on Robin van Persie's goals last season, “Now we have some diversity," Sagna said. "Everyone can score and everyone can be dangerous. It’s good for the team."

There was one pretty significant change to the team this week. Andre Santos headed back to his native Brazil for a loan spell with Porto Alegre-based Gremio. Before he left, he taped a message to Arsenal fans thanking them and his teammates for the support. Wenger stated that the left-back had lost some confidence and needs to play to get back on track. He also added that the loan move doesn't mean Santos' Arsenal career is over. The player will return in July.

Looking ahead, it's cup time again – on two fronts. First is an FA Cup Fifth Round match-up on Saturday against Championship side Blackburn. First thing first: Just because they play one league down, doesn’t mean they will be pushovers. We all remember Bradford. That said, one thing that stands out for Blackburn is their recent trend of instability. They are on their fifth manager of the season and have a young, inexperienced keeper between the sticks. That said, they have only lost one in the last eight and will definitely be up for it. Still, we did beat the Rovers 7-1 at the Emirates last season, so there just might be some red and white colored fireworks.

On Tuesday, the Germans invade London for a Champions League match-up. The last time Arsenal faced Bayern Munich was in this same round in 2005. The Bavarian side knocked us out of the competition by winning 3-1 at home and holding us to one goal at Highbury. Bayern is currently running away with the Bundesliga and sit 15 points ahead of last year's Champions, Borussia Dortmund.

If there was ever a time that the Emirates needed to be a fortress it's now. Blackburn and Bayern are followed by a Premier League match against Aston Villa. Seven days, three competitions. And hopefully three big wins.

Come on you Gunners!

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source Kevin Mooney 15 Feb 2013