Sunderland analysis : fractured partnerships make Arsenal fragile

By Myles Palmer

Arsenal 2 Sunderland 2


Memorable for one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen in my life.

A decision by Gilles Grimandi, in the 82nd minute, who passed the ball to Vieira while he was 25 yards from his own goal and facing the wrong way.

And when the score was 2-1. And 10 seconds after Vieira had just lost a pass from Adams on the halfway line.

Grimandi’s ball to Vieira was a 24-carat Do I Not Like That pass.

(Older readers will recall Graham Taylor’s angrily ungrammatical comment about a risky, stupid Des Walker pass to John Barnes in an England game. The remark later became legendary and was used as the title for the long video version of the hilarious documentary which had originally been broadcast as Graham Taylor : The Impossible Job).

Rae tackled Vieira fairly after 82 minutes when the score was 2-1.The ball went loose. McCann stepped in and hit an instant shot fiercely across Manninger into the far corner. A killer shot.

Basically, Arsenal were awesome when Patrick Vieira was awesome and vulnerable when Vieira was vulnerable.

The Gunners won the first half 2-0 and Sunderland won the second half 2-0.

It really was (and I hope you will forgve this tired old cliche) A HALF OF TWO GAMES.

Today’s visit to Charlton will be interesting. Very interesting.

Because Henry, the main goalscorer, may not play. And Vieira, the strongest player, was looking unusually fallible on Saturday.

Vieira’s day mirrored Arsenal’s day. He was powerful, then he was unlucky, and then he ran out of steam.

His glancing header from a perfect Pires corner put Arsenal 1-0 up.

Then Pires and Kanu missed four sitters. Not chances. Sitters.

Then Dixon buried Henry’s cross for 2-0.

After half-time Sunderland raised their game and Arsenal could not match them. They could not draw the second half. They could not even lose the second half 1-0. They could not even lose the second half 2-1.They were not good enough to score again.

So they lost the second half 2-0 and threw away two points on a day when Man Utd were held 1-1 at Newcastle.

The turning point was the award of the penalty by referee Graham Barber after 51 minutes.

Sunderland took long throw on the right. Grimandi’s first header was not the best, sailing across his own box. Stepanovs won the second header but got no distance.

Quinn stretched and poked the loose ball up so that it brushed Vieira’s upper arm. PV was just unlucky.It was a harsh penalty decision, but a technically correct one.

On the replay Vieira turned his face away because the ball might easily have flown off Quinn’s toe into his eye.There was no intent to handle.Vieira did not move his arm towards the ball and he had no time to move his arm away.

Kevin Phillips took a good penalty, beating Manninger’s dive : 2-1

Why did Arsenal collapse like a house of cards? Because Sunderland raised heir game? Because of fatigue, as Wenger suggested? A mixture of fatigue and psychological frailty?

Here is my theory of the week : fractured partnerships.

When things start to go pear-shaped in a football match you have to fallback on your spine, on your habits, on your experience, on what has worked for you in the past, and ON YOUR KEY PARTNERSHIPS.

Every key partnership in the Arsenal team has been ripped apart during the year 2000. These onfield understandings and rhythms are what holds a team together. Those bonds take years to build.

The major partnerships were Adams and Keown – Keown was missing.

Adams and Seaman – Seaman was missing.

Bergkamp and Overmars – both missing.

Petit and Vieira – Petit missing.

Bergkamp and Henry – Bergkamp missing

Bergkamp and Parlour – both missing.

Each of those players was the other wheel of a tandem. Each kept the vehicle stable and motoring. Each made the other stronger, more confident, more able to win a match by scoring a goal or preventing a goal.

OK, Pires and Silvinho and Henry play very well together. Those three are now very important. A good unit, a good triangular enterprise in attack, especially. Those three can be half the team on a good day.

But Kanu was hopeless.Maybe he needs a winter break.

Kanu was poor against Leicester the week before but nobody mentioned it because Arsenal won 6-1. He was a passenger against Sunderland. Was he 100% fit?.

Grimandi does very well at times but he does not partner anybody.Same with Kanu. Same with Ljungberg.

Stepanovs has only played three games so he is reeling from culture shock.In a shaky team Stepanovs adds to the shakiness as soon as the opposition score. But we have to see the big Latvian play another ten games before we can make a sensible judgement.

We can say this : Stepanovs is already a vital weapon at set-pieces, where Arsenal have been weak for four years. I’ve been closing my eyes for four years at corners because I knew it would not be a goal.

Now I’ve opened them and seen three goals from corners in the last two games, which is more than they’ve scored from corners since Wenger took over!

Another big man at the far post gives Vieira a better chance to nod them in at the near post.

Sadly, the main characteristic of Arsenal’s football in the second half was panic. Individuals panicked. Maybe because they know how good the team can be and should be and used to be.The side is alarmingly fragile at the moment.

At first I thought the equaliser was a Luis Enrique-scale blunder(when PV blew it big time at the Nou Camp in 1999) but it wasn’t that bad.

Nothing Vieira ever does in football could be that stupid again. This was just a silly pass by one Frenchman to another, the first putting the second in a very dodgy position.

But, however regrettable that equaliser by Sunderland was, it was,ultimately,the sort of thing that happens in football matches.

Vieira did not allow his opponent to near enough to get the ball, but he allowed him to touch the ball. And that proved expensive.

Whatever happened to Row Z? If you are 2-1 up with eight minutes to go, welly it into the stand!

Vieira is a great player but he cannot be a great player in every minute of every match.

In the last seven games Vieira has scored the winner against

Southampton, the equaliser at Tottenham, and the second goal against Leicester.

And on Saturday he scored his third goal in the last four games to give Arsenal a flying start after five minutes.

What more can one man do?Put on a pair of gloves and keep clean sheets till Dudek arrives?

Vieira needs more help. He needs Bergkamp always in position to take his passes. He needs other players to start scoring. Today. Kanu or Pires or Parlour must score against Charlton to give the team chance.

Clearly, Arsenal became a lot weaker when Henry went off injured (80 minutes) and the other 10 players all knew it.

Since Henry, Silvinho and Vieira have been carrying the team all year it was like a third of the team being injured.And a big bonus for Sunderland, who pushed forward and equalised within two minutes of Henry limping off.

But why did Arsenal fold so dramatically in the second half?Why did we see a terrible and frightening 45 minutes which made the team look like a house without foundations. A hollow shell. A door without hinges. When Sunderland knocked on the door it simply fell down.

For me, the big factor was the lack of those crucial partnerships that glue a team together.

Especially those partnerships that are fundamental, cornerstones of the structure. Especially the spinal partnerships between Seaman & Adams and Vieira & Bergkamp.

Can Arsenal beat Charlton and Chelsea? I don’t know. If I could forecast football results I’d be a billionaire.

31st December 2000.

PS A Happy New Year to all Gooners (and all football fans!)