Match report: A costly dip in form

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

How many chances to gain ground will Man Utd afford Arsenal over the next few months? As many as Arsenal will afford them?

Make no mistake, yesterday was another opportunity missed by Arsenal. For my money, we really needed two things against Sunderland. A win, obviously, but also a performance – a statement of intent that would lay our title marker down. The door was left ajar in midweek with Utd losing and I wanted us to blow it open yesterday.

What we got instead was a subdued performance which burst into life, but not until late in the day. In the end, we can justifiably rail against two poor decisions from officials, but it should never have come to that. Had we started with the vigour we ended the game with, we’d have shrugged the penalty-that-was and the offside-that-wasn’t off. They wouldn’t have mattered. But we took too long to get going and they became pivotal.

Of course, that doesn’t alter the fact that we ought to have won, but instead ended up dropping points on two subjective calls. On such things, as a “disgusted” Wenger said, can titles be won and lost. When you are not playing your best football, you need the rub of the green and we didn’t get that yesterday.

But it’s down to us to make, and crucially take chances. Having to rely on a referee or a linesman to get tight calls right is a risky strategy indeed for winning a game. As well as those two, other chances came and went. Arshavin wasted one good one, Chamakh rattled the bar from a Wilshere cross and Bendtner had a rasper tipped away.

So as we head into perhaps the biggest week of the campaign to date, I do worry about our form. Since the high of Barcelona at home, we’ve lost players and we’ve lost momentum. We looked nothing like our best against against Stoke, we were average against Birmingham, average at Orient and until the last 30 mins we were average yesterday. We need to be firing on all cylinders to stand a chance but we’re not.

So why is this? Lots of games – perhaps, injuries – sure. Without Cesc, van Persie, Song & Walcott we are missing two fifths of our ‘best’ XI. Without Cesc in particular, we lose guile, craft and forward momentum. Walcott’s final pass may be a rough diamond but his pace can transform us.

Denilson and Diaby are simply no substitute at all. Not individually and especially not when they play together. Neither made the faintest impact yesterday and it wasn’t until they both departed the field and Nasri came into the middle that we looked as menacing as we should be. You can see why Wenger was so keen to bring Ramsey back.

So overall: a game we should have won ourselves, before and after the intervention of the match officials. In the end though, a familiar sense of frustration.