Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1: The Gunners Hold Out For Nervy Victory
Arsenal came up against a Sunderland side that boasted of the lowest amount of goals conceded on a Premier League ground. Martin O’ Neill’s outfit aren’t the best of sides, but they had made their home a hard ground to play for the opposition.
Following the solitary victory over Stoke that was accompanied by the needless international break, Arsenal was badly depleted at the back and Laurent Koscielny was believed to have passed a late fitness test to play yesterday. In the warm up, Koscielny picked up a knock forcing Wenger to deploy Bacary Sagna to an unfamiliar center back role with Carl Jenkinson drafted into the right back position.
Aaron Ramsey was recalled to the midfield and Lukas Podolski had to make do with a place on the dugout.
Sunderland drew first blood when Craig Gardner lofted a cross for newbie, Alfred N’ Diaye but his header glanced over the bar. On the other end, Theo Walcott tested Simon Mignolet with a tame shot that was easy pickings for the Belgian goalie. In the buildup to that attack, Lee Cattermole clattered Ramsey and got a booking he deserved.
Olivier Giroud did well to fashion a chance for Walcott but the Englishman managed to blast the ball with the angle against him. Nonetheless, Mignolet made another fine stop.
The fleet-footed Stephane Sessegnon left Nacho Monreal for dead before drilling his cross into the box but Jenkinson was on hand to blast the ball to safety. It was end to end stuff as Jack Wilshere made another darting run in the middle before teeing up Giroud that blasted his effort wide off the mark.
Wilshere was in the thick of things yet again, as he cushioned the ball for Ramsey that wasted no time in blasting his shot goalwards. Within moments, Mignolet developed the reflexes of a cat to make another spectacular and I wasn’t surprised when I heard that it’s only Manchester City’s Joe Hart that has more clean sheets than the Sunderland goalie.
Arsenal’s sheer persistence paid off when Wilshere waltzed through two players before locating Walcott. The English forward sent a carefully-weighted pass to Santi Cazorla and the magician sent a low drive past Mignolet to make it one nil to the Arsenal.
That goal bolstered Arsenal’s confidence levels and they simply ran the show in the Stadium of Light. There was a moment when Mikel Arteta, Giroud and Wilshere combined superbly but Danny Rose made a last-ditch block to send the ball to safety with Walcott lurking on the far post.
Walcott went on to have to quick-fire efforts that were poor for a player of his standards but everyone connected with Arsenal was in shock when Ramsey missed from point-blank range after some good work from Giroud.
1-0 seemed like a good way to end the half from an Arsenal perspective but the second half offered a different prospect.
Early on, Arsenal’s injury woes were compounded when Jack Wilshere was substituted for what seems like a thigh injury. Sunderland almost got an equalizer when Ramsey was caught in possession but Steven Fletcher’s shot was fired wide.
The game turned on its head when Jenkinson received his marching orders for his second bookable offence and it went downhill for Arsenal from there. Wilshere’s withdrawal and Jenko’s sending off injected a breath of life into Sunderland’s play and they threatened the Gunners till the game was ended.
Sessegnon and Adam Johnson were at the forefront of the onslaught but the Arsenal backline held firm with Sagna and Per Mertesacker making a plethora of defensive blocks, headers, interceptions, merteceptions and the whole nine yards.
Arsenal got a lucky break when Cazorla sliced the Sunderland defense open with a sumptuous through ball to Walcott. The Englishman chipped the ball over Mignolet but the post spared his blushes.
Sunderland continued to probe the Arsenal defense and almost got an equalizer when Fletcher blocked Mertesacker’s clearance with his hands creating an one on one opportunity for himself but Szczesny raced out of his line to make a very important save for his team.
Late on, there were a couple of Titus Bramble misses but Arsenal had the chance to put the game beyond doubt when Giroud got an opportunity with teammates free on both sides but he chose to kill a bird in the sky much to the disgust of his manager.
At the end, it was three precious points obtained from the North East that allowed the Gunners to leapfrog Everton to fifth place, as Chelsea and Tottenham won their games as well.
Wenger hailed the commitment and resilience of his team and lauded the performances of his back five, that did a pretty amazing job if you ask me. On the down side, Wenger confirmed that Wilshere will be out for four to five days, which officially rules him out of the crunch clash with Bayern Munich.
In recent times, questions have been asked of Arsenal’s defense. Everyone has gotten an answer in the Stadium of Light.
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