Sunderland 1-2 Arsenal: Substitutions tell
Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker (Ramsey 72), Koscielny, Vermaelen, Song, Rosicky, Arteta, Walcott (Arshavin 87), Chamberlain (Henry 66), Van Persie
The short report
Arsenal took full advantage of defeats to Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle in the chase for a top four finish with a win that sees Arsenal move from 6th to 4th and sets the club up well for visits to the San Siro in the Champions League first leg and FA Cup 5th round tie against the same opponents.
The AL report
Coming into the match Sunderland were the form team in the league. Prior to taking charge Martin O’Neill’s team sat a mere 2 points from safety, until yesterday Sunderland had closed up 8 points on Arsenal. An away trip to the north east in winter is never easy at the best times, throw in a bobbly pitch and in form opposition and our precarious league form, Blackburn apart, and the result achieved is highly satisfying and bettered for me only by the trouncing of Chelsea at the Bridge.
Having scored seven against Blackburn Sunderland were keen not to give Arsenal space to play in behind, indeed the entire opening 5 minutes were played in Sunderland’s half with the hosts looking to sit deep and compact. It was a ploy continued for the large periods of the game, with Sunderland looking for the counter and set plays to nick one.
The bobbly surface slowed Arsenal’s ball movement down significantly, by the time Walcott and Chamberlain were picking up possession they were immediately faced by opposition players and a well set Sunderland back line and midfield to manoeuvre through, as a result neither were able to influence the match as they had done against Blackburn.
Although Arsenal enjoyed a large territorial advantage it wasn’t until the 22nd minute that the first chance arrived, Van Persie sliding in Walcott to fire across and wide of goal. On 28 minutes Thomas Rosicky lofted a ball over his opponent to set up a counter, Chamberlain carried the ball at pace before returning the ball back to Rosicky. The Czech played in Van Persie and moved into space for a return ball in a position where he’d be favourite to score. But the pitch was proving cumbersome, even for the fleet footed skills of Van Persie, and the move broke down.
In the second half Arsenal begun to up the tempo and penned Sunderland in between 55 and 60 minutes, although a clear chance didn’t emerge. The best moment was a Rosicky tackle and flick wide to team mate Sagna who’s cross found Walcott in the box. Theo couldn’t take the well-placed pass with any control and the ball spooned in the air with the pitch no doubt not helping matters once more.
On 60 minutes Sunderland stirred, a corner and clearance fell towards the edge of the Arsenal area. Craig Gardener’s shot came through a crowded box and Szczesny whom had little to do got down low to his left to turn the ball behind. Minutes later it was a similar scenario with Gardener this time testing Szczesny with a half volley saved to his right.
Against Blackburn Arsenal were troubled only by a sublime Pedersen free kick and had kept a clean sheet on their travels to Bolton. They deserved another at the Stadium of light but on 70 minutes they were undone by a twisted ankle to Per Mertesacker with Arsenal in possession. McClean picked up the ball advanced and beat Szczesny with a hard shot into the far corner. No problem that Sunderland played on for me, as the rules dictate. Wenger though will no doubt have been unimpressed by the pitch which was causing Arsenal's undoing.
A goal down on a bobbly pitch in a match where Arsenal had controlled but found chances hard to come by, a win at that stage looked highly unlikely but crucially Arsenal found themselves level within 5 minutes. Sub Aaron Ramsey collected the ball 25 yards out following a blocked Arteta shot from similar range to sweep home low left of goal in of both uprights. Ramsey has been somewhat over utilised this season. His rest has been timely and well judged by Wenger with his replacement Rosicky in such good form. Pleasing for Ramsey to get on the score sheet, he's been less prolific in front of goal since his injury but perhaps that's a factor of so much playing time.
The remainder of the match saw Arsenal push for another, but it wasn’t until the introduction of Andrei Arshavin that a clear chance emerged. His 84th minute introduction proved telling producing a number of dangerous crosses. On 85 Van Persie headed a well placed cross straight at the Black Cat’s keeper before on 91 minutes and with two defenders closing in he found space to curl in a cross for Henry who simply couldn’t miss from 6 yards. Henry will take the headlines but it is Arshavin that deserves the credit.
And whilst Arshavin’s powers may be on the wain, and whilst he may have fallen out of favour of the manager and fans he remains dignified in his stance and professional in his approach and for that we should be respectful in return.
Arsene tends to be somewhat formulaic and therefore predictable in his substitutions, often tending towards fitness considerations than tactical. However the changes against Sunderland worked a treat, both goals came from substitutes and the winner from an assist from final substitute Arshavin. Within 5 minutes of both Ramsey and Arshavin’s introductions Arsenal scored.
Wojciech Szczesny was rarely called upon, but with the tie level at 0-0 the keeper made two top draw saves around the hour mark with both shots coming through a crowded box. The most impressive aspect was that Szczesny remained alert and ready following a ten-minute period in which Arsenal had penned in the hosts. Caught everything flung into his box with ease and composure and avoided the risky dribbling that almost put him in trouble at Bolton.
Moan of the match
I noted in the last report just how fine the lines can be between no points and one or even three and yesterday was a case in point with referee Neil Swarbrick missing a blatant and rather obvious handball by Dong-Won Ji on 89 minutes, in a move that may have put Sunderland ahead and consigned Arsenal to a ninth defeat.
The Final Word
A highly satisfying win, we’ve lost some points from winning positions and dropped some against sides we were expected to comfortably beat of late and so to come from behind in this tricky away tie with a late winner and build some momentum ahead of a stretch of testing fixtures is of vital significance. It’s AC Milan up next at the San Siro and maybe just maybe another chance for Thierry Henry to make a telling mark.
2011-12 | Match Reports