Bayern Munich's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer saves Mesut Ozil's (left) penalty in their Champions League match. – AFP Photo
AS USUAL, February blew in a bad patch for the Gunners but the team did not crumble as expected.
They managed to bounce back from the 5-1 thrashing by Liverpool, although the response may not have been as strong as what the Arsenal faithfuls have been hoping for.
Yet, they are second in the Premier League (until Manchester City play their game in hand), still in the FA Cup and clinging on to the Champions League.
Ok, so maybe we should strike off the Champions League – it is unlikely that the Gunners will finally grab their holy grail this year. Not after the way they played (or didn’t play, Mesut Ozil!) against Bayern Munich in midweek. And anyway, after nine years coming up empty, all trophies are now holy grails. No fan will fault them if they channel their fight to a competition they do have hope of winning.
So Arsenal need to be on top of their game against Sunderland on Saturday night.
Sunderland may be hovering over relegation but the Black Cats are in good form and know how to grab a point against Arsenal, having drawn almost half of their last 20 clashes.
Gus Poyet has given the Black Cats the boost they needed since he took over last October; they have lost only one of their last eight league games, and are competing in both the FA Cup and the League Cup (final).
Unlike the Gunners, they have also strengthened their squad – buying five new players – in the January transfer window. Arsenal not only missed the chance of strengthening their team but also lost their key players to injury – goalscorer from the previous clash Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott.
The reverse fixture earlier this season, which the Gunners won 3-1, was a turning point for Arsenal – Ozil made his debut and somehow inspired the team to their best run in years.
Ironically, the German playmaker may have to be dropped from this return fixture for Arsenal to regain that form.
Ozil has been poor in the last few games, and was guilty of abetting Liverpool in their recent humiliation of Arsenal (his loss of possession gifted at least two goals to the Reds).
Against Bayern, he was out of sync with his team and provided no help when Arsenal were down to 10 men.
Yup, how fast Ozil has fallen from hero to zero!
We have seen this before though – remember Cesc Fabregas and even Thierry Henry conking out under the weight of responsibility dumped on them by Arsene Wenger? Remember how Santi Cazorla faded last season after being overused?
With his class, Ozil can still help Arsenal in the title race and maybe the FA Cup. Against Liverpool in the FA Cup match last week, he showed some of his earlier form, jumping into the thick of the action and helped create the winning goals.
A break might help him get back his mojo, and Saturday night is as good as any. Arsenal have the players to cover his position anyway, and maybe it is time for Wenger to shift some of the responsibility to his other Guns.
Arsenal to win 2-1.