Sunderland has always been a tough side to crack and yesterday was no different on a horrible pitch at the Stadium of Blight. The first half was marked by the usual spectacle of Arsenal bossing the ball with little to show. Sunderland known for its strong defending did just that but their counterattacking was laboured.
The first half was marked with one bit of controversy as Per Mertesacker's stumbled after his clumsy attempt to chest the ball and then appeared to have handled it trying to recover. Neil Swarbrick, the referee deemed it accidental but Martin O' Neill felt it should have been a penalty.
The big German's ungainly control again proved to be his literal downfall as he crumpled to the ground conceding the ball to James McClean to accelerate down the left and angle the ball past Szczesny. Merts seems to have injured his ankle ligaments which rules him out of the Champions League game next week against AC Milan. It was Sunderland on the board after a busy spell which saw Szczesny make some great saves off Craig Gardner. To be fair, one couldn't see Arsenal coming back from the McClean goal. Wenger went for Ramsey replacing Merts as Song dropped back to pair Kos. Thierry Henry had preceded Ramsey's entry minutes before replacing Ox after Phil Bardsley had done a job on the teenager.
The usual down the middle stuff would not work as Sunderland were ready to park the bus. Tomas Rosicky is great at protecting the ball, he wheels around, changes pace, but his passing touch is woeful. Arteta is much better but he sits a bit too deep. Song tried a few times but what worked against Blackburn did not here as RVP and Walcott were well covered by one of the better Premiership defenses. But in one those never say never moments, Ramsey's first significant touch after Arteta's shot was blocked, was a rasping grounder that eluded Mignolet, pinged off both uprights and then settled in the back of the net. Sighs of relief all around from the traveling fans.
Wenger then took off Walcott and introduced Arshavin, the captain of the Russian team (TM) and the winger sporting a new haircut looked much more inventive trying to prise open the defense with some neat dinks into the box. In added time with the match heading for a stalemate, Arshavin held up on the left with two defenders fronting him spotting a lurking Henry in the box, scooped the ball, setting the stage for the Red Bulls man to end his Premiership return with panache.
This was a shot in the arm, much more so than the Blackburn victory. RVP did not score but others did. It came on the road, in tough conditions (that pitch should be decertified), against a tough team who will be our FA Cup opponents next weekend. Two players who receive much grief turned this match around. The weekend also provided some favourable results propelling us to fourth place. It sends us to Milan with a sense of momentum for that CL first leg.
Wenger commenting on the match:
" We had a lot of the ball but we couldn't create a lot because our passing was good but it was very difficult to get into their defence. On top of that we were 1-0 down so it was a question of a spirited performance and that is what happened in the end. I felt we were intelligent, patient and resilient. "