Sunderland went ahead with a Darren Bent goal in the 71st minute and held on for the win. A somewhat lucky goal but the they are getting quite the reputation as the club that the big four fear the most. Liverpool and Man Utd have had their share of difficulties with them, so it was never going to be easy for Arsenal.
Having said that, could Arsenal have done more to win? There was a definite drop off in the energy levels in the Arsenal side following the international week which saw Fabregas, Sagna, Gallas, Diaby, and Arshavin on duty. A refocus on club football was going to be an issue. A lack of inches was another. At 5'11" Thomas Vermaelen is our only "giant".
But against Sunderland, who are not exactly an overpoweringly physical side this really should not have been a problem. Plus, an undersized John Mensah providing a new central pairing with Paolo Da Silva. So Sunderland had as many defensive questions as Arsenal's left back quandary. Wenger chose to begin Armand Traore in place of Silvestre. Aaron Ramsey began in place of Arshavin with the Russian probably suffering the psychical injuries of his country's loss to Slovenia. And Eduardo was the lone striker Wenger resorted to in his conventional 4-5-1 formation.
Ramsey did not reproduce his form and Eduardo looked tentative. Those misses against Spurs are not the signs of a confident finisher and it continued against Sunderland. The lack of clear scoring chances led to Arshavin entering the pitch and thereafter Vela and Walcott to neutralize Bent's goal. But I have seen enough matches to realize there is a definite Jekyll and Hyde quality to Arshavin. A more passive Arshavin and a rusty Walcott did not provide too many highlight moments.
Song had a much bigger impact on the game than Fabregas and created the a few good scoring chance, especially the one for Eduardo. But chances were at a premium with Rosicky and Fabregas having the best shots at goal. At the other end, Sunderland's Lorik Cana continues to prove that he remains Steve Bruce's most canny signing along with Bent.
With Arsenal its a pattern of a series of sublime high scoring games leading to a let down. What Arsenal have yet to show is whether they can eke out a 'dirty victory' and next Sunday, they come up against a team that has shown a mastery in that art form.
I have to add that it is the first time this season, Wenger seems to be showing signs of explicit doubt:
"It is a massive setback because you need consistency to win a title. And today we were not capable of doing that and it raises question marks."
Chelsea is the only team in the Premiership left with goals conceded in the single digits. Arsenal has given up more than twice that number with 15. The Blues with Essien, Mikel, and Ballack are going to do what they do best, bump the Arsenal midfield off the ball to negate the edge in speed and creativity, and give few chances to get into a rhythm. Arsenal has to counteract with 'testy' and 'angry' football to match that physicality.