How you judge Arsenal's weekend victory at Sunderland depends on which way you choose to frame the result. On the one hand Arsenal did not put in a great performance and only won the game thanks to two horrific defensive errors from their hosts. But on the other hand the Gunners did what they needed to: gain a vital three points on the road in one of those ever-tricky matches following a midweek European game. Three points gained should never be confused as a bad result, it was, however, a pretty poor match.
In my first column last week, I wrote that Arsenal needed to use this spell of games before facing Manchester United and Dortmund to gain some momentum, and to get their passing fluency back. This match provided no great joy for Arsenal, nor did it herald any great improvement in their passing game. Instead, their win at the Stadium of Light came by the way of two absolute gifts from Sunderland.
For the first goal, Arsenal benefited from a huge error by Wes Brown, who scuffed a terrible backpass on the turn to Vito Mannone under pressure from Alexis Sánchez. After a solid opening half hour from Sunderland, Brown's lapse of concentration will have deeply frustrated his manager, and it presented the sort of invitation a player of Sánchez's calibre simply does not refuse, the Chilean duly chipping past Sunderland's stricken ex-Arsenal keeper.
Arsenal didn't create a great deal, only managing a total of five shots on target, but could have gone further ahead despite their lack of attacking penetration with three decent chances that fell to Santi Cazorla, the diminutive Spaniard dispatching his shot high into the stand on each occasion.
Arsène Wenger's starting line-up saw three changes to the team that left it so late in Anderlecht in midweek, Szczęsny coming back in goal for Martinez having served a European suspension in midweek. Jack Wilshere was unavailable having accumulated five yellow cards, so he and Ramsey were replaced in midfield by Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal's defenders have been in the wars lately and it was once again a case of make do and mend for Wenger, with Monreal filling in at centre-back and Calum Chambers at right back. Wenger's defensive problems look to have deteriorated further after this encounter, with Kieran Gibbs limping off in the 73rd minute with a hip injury.
In more positive injury news, Arsenal fans will have been pleased by the presence of Theo Walcott on the substitutes bench. Walcott, out since his injury during the FA Cup victory over Spurs in January, will need to be phased back into the team cautiously over the coming weeks, but could provide the pace and directness in attack which Arsenal have lacked in recent games.
Arsenal monopolised the ball throughout but found Sunderland difficult to break down. The Wearsiders, wounded by their 8-0 defeat at Southampton, looked to be more solid this time round. Playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation, Sunderland were physical in their approach, which this Arsenal side at last seem able to face up to, but seemingly at the cost of attacking potency.
Sunderland did not show much initiative to put pressure on the ball but they didn't need to - Arsenal's lack of inspiration kept them away from the danger zones.
Arsenal's problem going forward was that with Flamini and Arteta both playing defensively-minded roles in the centre of midfield and Sánchez playing a free role behind Welbeck up top, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain are the players you expect to provide width. In practice, Oxlade-Chamberlain tends to drift inside, and Cazorla is well known for his phobia for touchlines. All this leaves Arsenal's attacking players attempting to occupy the same cramped space in the middle of the pitch, with Gibbs and Chambers the only providers of width.
With the centre of the pitch so congested, and a lack of creativity in the absence of Ramsey/Wilshere/Özil, Arsenal only move forward with any urgency when the fullbacks come forward to cross, or when Sánchez dribbles past a couple of players to make some space. Otherwise it's countless slow passes through the middle, which carry little hope of breaking the back line. In the end, Arsenal's second goal was as fortunate as their first, but it was Mannone who was feeling generous this time, again under the pressure of Alexis Sánchez, who again capitalised ruthlessly on the error.
Not the most inspiring performance, but results elsewhere made it a rather good weekend for Arsenal as they were the only side amongst their title and top four rivals (plus Tottenham) to gain maximum points.
An Arsenal fan who now lives in France, John can be found tweeting under the Proven Quality account @provenquality.