By Myles Palmer
Arsenal 3 Sunderland 0
Vieira 2, Bergkamp 4, Wiltord 30
Vieira’s goal in 63 seconds was jammy, Bergkamp’s looked inches offside on the replays, and Wiltord’s was a shinner off his left ankle.
On the first goal Wiltord’s cross hit a defender and the ball soon came back to him and his second cross hit a defender as well-then broke for Vieira.
But many of Arsenal’s first half moves were absolutely brilliant!
And give Arsene credit for realising how vulnerable Sunderland are right now.
Their defending was as inept as the Leeds back line had been in losing 4-3 to Man United in the morning kick-off on Sky.
Two goals in four minutes killed Sunderland off, even though they missed chances in the second half when 3-0 down.
With a game at Charlton on Easter Monday, the manager wanted a short match, not a battle.
Four of the remaining seven Premiership games are at home and all those games might be like this one, even if Spurs, West Ham, Ipswich and Everton do not defend so badly.
Tony Adams added his huge presence and played very well in his 500th League game.
If Tony can play 90 minutes in those seven games Arsenal have a great chance of becoming champions again.
The team news was that Freddie Ljungberg was on the left side, so Arsene had decided to play with, virtually, four strikers.
This meant some subtle changes in the formation.
Thierry Henry was playing more centre-right.
Bergkamp was roaming around, knowing he had to start providing some of the passes that Pires usually supplies.He did that with a Pires-style pass from the left which Wiltord shinned home for 3-0.
Vieira and Bergkamp were playing closer to each other.
That’s good because they know each other so well, having played together for six years.
If Patrick can’t give the ball to Robert he is most likely to give it to Dennis now.
Edu is hitting longish early passes, often first time passes, to launch those high-speed attacks. He can now release Henry on both flanks, which is promises fun in April.
Henry played well and set up good late chances for Cole and sub Kanu, both badly muffed.
There are a few small wrinkles in this exciting team.
One, Sol Campbell and Seaman don’t yet have a full understanding. Their relationship was not helped by a foolish chested backpass by Sol at 2-0.
Cut the fancy stuff, mate. Rio you ain’t. Keep it simple. When in doubt, put it in Row Z!
Sol, of course, is more comfortable playing with Keown, as Tony Adams takes his favoured left side spot
Two, Luzhny takes big risks when he overlaps Wiltord.
If Wiltord spins inside, and loses the ball, as he often does, Luzhny can be stranded 30 yards behind the play.
Luzhny still fancies himself as a wing-back, as he was at Kiev. But Arsenal don’t play with two markers and a sweeper.
Three, Ljungberg is a goal-taker, not a goal-maker.
Freddie is a gutsy runner who gets into scoring positions. His crossing and passing can be good, can be bad.
He is still a little bit rusty, and he has made a disorienting switch back to to his old position on the left side.
Which is his favourite position, and in my view, his best position.
WHEN PIRES WAS INJURED MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS THIS:
They will miss his goals and his assists.
If Pires has scored 13 goals already he would have scored three goals in the eight remaining Premiership games.
If he had 15 assists already, he would have four assists at least. Maybe five or six assists in those games.
So the immediate question for Arsene Wenger was : How can I make up for those seven or eight or nine goals that Pires would have scored or created?
Myself, I would put Freddie down for three goals in the next seven games. When they chips are down, the Swede delivers. He gets into the box, gets shots in, wins penalties.
That means I’m still about six goals short of where I expected to be with Pires playing.
For me, Lauren is the answer.
I think Lauren, when he is fit, must come back and play in Wiltord’s position. Especially against Ziege in the Spurs game, and against the marauding Sylvestre in the United game.
Lauren can defend but he also has the skill, the awareness, to create chances.
He can contribute a handful of assists from midfield in this crucial make-or-break period.
Yesterday the team was almost 4-2-4 with only Edu and Vieira in the middle.
That formation is risky away from home.
Even at Charlton.
Can you afford to say : We are the stars, you mark us!
Two Mondays ago I went to Spurs with Mark Jacob and saw Curbishley’s tidy, industrious journeymen beat Spurs 1-0 at the Lane.
Centreback Richard Rufus, a ferocious stopper, was excellent on his comeback.Jorge Costa was ponderous.
Dean Kiely is a big brave keeper who stops shots with hands, arms,legs and feet.I have always rated Kiely.
Graham Stuart, versatile as ever, had a good game in a team that was compact, hard-working, sensible and honest.
Spurs had lost their previous three games by 4-0 and they lost this one 1-0 after a boob by Ledley King let in Chris Powell.
But Charlton never get much credit, as their fans will tell you.
On the train home a Charlton fan was sitting next to me. He
was with five mates, three of them Spurs fans. He assumed I was a Spurs fan.
He said, “We’re seventh in the table and we’ve had to work for it.We’ve done the double over Chelsea, the double over you lot, and we beat Arsenal 4-2 at their place.
“And we won’t get no credit for this win.When you look in your paper tomorrow the story will be : Spurs players under-achieve. I loved it when Hoddle took Rebrov off – he was your best player. When he went off I thought : we’ll definitely win now.”
Charlton now have the workmanlike Mark Kinsella back in midfield.
Jason Euell is a striker Arsene once tried to buy from Wimbledon.
Tiny Scott Parker is a mighty atom, sticking his foot in here, there and everywhere.
Chris Bart-Williams is a solid passer, an under-rated player
Swedish striker Mathias Svensson is better than you think, Jonatan Johansson, a useful poacher, Konchesky a lively and quite skilful sub.
True, Charlton have just lost 2-0 at Liverpool. But they are a far better team than Sunderland or Spurs right now.
Arsenal will not be able to blow this lot away inside 20 minutes.
But, having said all that, it looks like a six-point Easter.
And the title is still in Arsenal’s hands.
If only I knew when Lauren was gonna be fit….
31st Marcdh 2002.