Arsenal 2 Sunderland 0
It is probably worth remarking now that whilst the three points dropped at the Stadium of Light did not seem that bad at the time - Sunderland were in a great run of form - it now appears to be a very costly result.
Having beaten Liverpool and Sunderland, Chelsea's lead has been cut to six points. 11 games to play, 33 points available. Andrey Arshavin has said we need to take all of them; realistically, we may be able to drop 2/3/4 points and still win the League. But the timing of those bad results will be really important.
It was Sunderland this Saturday, Stoke next Saturday, and Burnley the Saturday after. So at the moment there's a week between each match: if we lose at the Britannia next Saturday, there will be an entire week of recriminations and negative energy in the media and on the training ground. What's more, Chelsea could be out of sight if they beat Man City.
But, if results go our way this coming weekend, then even if we do drop points to, say, Man City, we should still be in the title race.
On Saturday, Arsenal were good if uninspiring. Frankly, one would expect aspiring champions to beat a struggling Sunderland by more than two goals, but that scoreline doesn't really tell the story of the game: arguably, there was further evidence this team lacks footballing intelligence - if Zenden had put that free-kick away at the end for Sunderland, it would have been one of the most ill-deserved results that an opposition team had taken from The Grove. But with this team, at 1-0 it is always somewhat worrying that they will concede. And the point here, is that it wouldn't be the same if this team had a defence which was a beacon of solidity. Yet, although Vermaelen has been the best centre back in England this year, it simply does not give across that impression: one of the perks of our fixture list being light at the moment is that William Gallas will hopefully be back next Saturday because Silvestre does not inspire confidence.
Bendtner took his goal well and aside from one moment at the end of the first half where Kenwyne Jones should of scored for Sunderland we were very comfortable. Although I don't agree with the praise being bandied his way in some of the newspapers, Walcott wasn't as bad as usual. He didn't seem afraid of the ball like he usually is and once or twice he beat a man with his pace.
Lets not get too over-excited though: George McCartney, aside from being the amalgam of two Beatles has no star-quality - he is a very average defender. Theo's crossing was still p*ss-poor and his lack of any tricks or a decent cross means he is never going to be a great attacking weapon until he acquires them. Don't get me wrong: I'd love Theo Walcott to be a great player and prove me wrong; but at the moment he seems over-hyped and over-rated.
The contrast with Emmanuel Eboué is extraordinary. Of course, it is true that the Ivorian in a fine run of form but he always seems to make more effort than Walcott and, for a man who is primarily a defender, the contrast in crossing ability between the two is extraordinary. Eboué was excellent, as was Nasri which was good to see.
Nasri's season certainly seems to have been hampered by the fact he missed pre-season - and hence lost his fitness - and also the first two months of the season through his leg break. Regular readers of this site will know what a fan I am of Nasri and when he was first brought in, his impression was instant: a goal within three minutes of his Premier League debut, and six goals by the beginning of November, three with each foot. In terms of a comparison with Hleb, there wasn't one: Nasri was so many times better it was amazing.
But this season he hasn't quite hit those heights - the goals had dried up but not only that, in general he didn't seem to be giving us enough. That changed against Sunderland: he dribbled well, crossed well and just seemed to have an extra drive. To use a Wenger-ism he 'played without the handbrake'. Long may it continue.
Having beaten Sunderland, Wenger has a full week of training to prepare the team for their visit to the Britannia. Win there, and its gonna be one hell of a ride; lose, and then fail to beat Porto and our season could be over in a couple of weeks: the polarity is there and it is real.
This team could be heroes. Let's hope they become them.
Keep the faith,
This team has the