Nobody expected Sunderland to roll over and die – they are fighting for their Premier League survival after all – but Arsenal found a way to make them look like world beaters in a turgid draw.
The little bit of fight that we saw against West Bromwich vanished without trace at the Stadium of Light, missing amid 90 minutes of feckless and careless football.
Yes, Arsenal enjoyed 70 per cent of the possession. And yes, they registered 20 shots on goal, but the statistics really don’t tell the story of game that the Gunners could so easily have lost.
All the intensity and all the desire came from the home team who, but for a lack of quality, could have taken all three points. If anything, the hosts will be the more disappointed of the two sides, having made a concerted effort to get the win.
Too many Arsenal players were out of sorts today. Aaron Ramsey was vaguely reminiscent of the player who was so readily derided by fans many years ago, so consistently poor in possession was he.
He seemed shorn of confidence, panicked and unsure of the things that came so easily to him a few season ago.
Mesut Ozil’s electric form is beginning to tail off, fuelled by the frustration of his side’s capitulation no doubt, and young Alex Iwobi also had a poor game, misplacing countless passes and missing some very presentable opportunities in front of goal.
But the performance that really stood out above all others as the creme-de-la-crème of utter shit belonged to Olivier Giroud. It was one of his worst performances in an Arsenal shirt, and I really felt for him by the end.
I have a lot of time for Giroud – I think a lot of criticism that comes his way is unjust. He never set himself up as a Louis Suarez or a Jamie Vardy, that burden has been placed upon him. He is not blessed with electric pace or a poacher’s instinct, and so I don’t think it is fair that he is put into that bracket for comparison.
I accept his scoring record is not world class but he has consistently returned 15-20 goals every season, and has been excellent under the high ball, allowing the midfield to work off of him.
But his limitations when facing goal with the ball at his feet have been brought into sharper focus this season. Where the likes of Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Jamie Vardy have come to the fore as the season comes to its end, Olivier has wilted.
When the team is playing well, he scores goals – there is no denying that. It’s when there isn’t much happening that his contribution becomes an issue. On their off days, the very best are still be able to make the most of the chance that comes their way. I don’t think the same can be said of Giroud.
When things aren’t going well for the team he gets riled and will often become embroiled in petty, pointless tussles with defenders. If decisions don’t go his way, his frustration builds to the point where he comes ineffectual.
That is not good enough.
I think that was in evidence against West Bromwich and again against Sunderland. There were a few moments at the Stadium of Light which deserved better, particularly when he superbly brought a ball down into the path of Alex Iwobi eight yards from goal, only for the resulting shot to be blocked with a hand.
But there were countless situations where he really should have done better and failed miserably. Everything he did turned to shit, to the point of derision.
It was a mercy when he was finally replaced.
The blame for Arsenal’s poor performance can not solely be laid at his door, but his performance was symptomatic of a side which is really lacking direction, confidence and ideas. A win today would probably have sealed a place in the top four, leaving Manchester United too far adrift with just three games to play.
Instead, Arsenal now face a nervy finish to the season. They really can’t afford anything less than seven points from the remaining nine available, and they may even have to go to Manchester City and win, a result I really can’t see at the moment.
If there are any positives to take from today, it’s that Jack Wilshere managed about 10 minutes at the end. He was neat, he was willing, and he brought a bit of energy to a side that was very short by that stage.
It will be interesting to see if he gets more time next week against Norwich. I still think it’s too early to throw him in from the start but, as things stand, you never know.
It should also be remembered that the Gunners are now unbeaten in seven matches, a run that stretches back to March 5. There haven’t been enough wins in that run by far, but it’s a positive nonetheless.