Friday 20 April 2018

Ozil releases Arsenal brakes

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 3

Louise Taylor

Arsene Wenger invented a new word last week. Arsenal's manager described the tentative, inhibited football that can afflict even the best players when they appear for their national sides as "hand-brakey", but with Mesut Ozil in midfield, it is a syndrome most unlikely to strike his own team.

The bad news for Paolo Di Canio was that, before fading in the second half, Wenger's £42.5m new boy from Real Madrid delighted in releasing Arsenal's attacking handbrake at every opportunity. In the process, he succeeded in bringing the best out in those around him, most notably Jack Wilshere.

Without Ozil's impact, though, it is debatable as to whether Arsenal would have departed Wearside with three points on a day when Di Canio's boldly attacking strategy ensured the London side endured some nervy moments during a second half in which Sunderland had two "goals" disallowed, one from Jozy Altidore, in the most controversial circumstances.

At the final whistle, Sunderland fans, many with faith reaffirmed in the potential of their manager's "revolution", booed off the referee, Martin Atkinson. Shortly before, Di Canio had been sent off after engaging in an animated discussion with the referee.

Shortly before kick-off, Ozil placed his head in his hands and engaged in what appeared to be a moment's deep contemplation. It certainly seemed to leave his mind clearly focused as, after only 11 minutes, the Germany international chalked up his first assist in English football.

Showing off adhesive control as he seamlessly trapped Kieran Gibbs's long pass down the left, Ozil barely broke stride before sliding an exemplary pass into the path of the on-rushing Olivier Giroud, who placed it, left-footed, beyond Keiren Westwood.

Afforded freedom to roam from his starting station sandwiched between Theo Walcott and Wilshere in the attacking element of Wenger's 4-2-3-1 formation, Ozil's gossamer touch and 20/20 vision highlighted Di Canio's bravery in selecting only two central midfielders.

When Laurent Koscielny lunged ill-advisedly at Adam Johnson and brought him down in the area, Atkinson pointed to the penalty spot. Up stepped Craig Gardner, who replaced Vaughan at half-time, to direct the perfect kick low into the bottom corner.

Now it was Wenger's turn to frown; this was the second penalty Koscielny has conceded in three league appearances this season. For a time, Arsenal really wobbled before Aaron Ramsey restored their lead courtesy of a superlative volley from the edge of the area after connecting with Carl Jenkinson's cross. Ramsey swiftly proceeded to score his fifth of the campaign, meeting Giroud's ball and sliding a right-foot shot beneath Westwood.

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