Sunderland kept an unchanged team, so we had these line-ups for this important game for both sidea at the Emirates Stadium:
Sunderland: Mignolet, Ferdinand, Mensah, Bramble, Bardsley, Henderson, Muntari, Malbranque, Richardson, Sessegnon, Gyan. Subs: Gordon, Riveros, Welbeck, Colback, Elmohamady, Knott, Noble.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Denilson, Wilshere, Nasri, Diaby, Arshavin, Bendtner. Subs: Almunia, Rosicky, Ramsey, Squillaci, Eboue, Gibbs, Chamakh.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)
Arsenal were obviously tense early on, maybe the need for a win and, the thoughts of chasing Man. Utd. were getting to them. They were caught giving the ball away, and Sunderland forced a corner after 2 min., which set a pattern of the play being in the home half in the early stages. Another corner for the Lads in the 8th min. led to “goal machine” Phil Bardsley firing wide, what an amazing season he is having. Arsenal did not really threaten until the 10th minute, when Nasri shot straight at Mignolet. Perhaps Arsenal had half a mind on the midweek game against Barcelona, but they were not committing many men forward, aside from Bendtner.
After a great move Henderson was in space, and he eased the ball out on the right to Sessegnon. The Frenchman made a yard or two for himself and shot powerfully, but too close to Szczesny, who pushed the ball out and to safety, just missing the ever-alert Gyan. There was a chance for Malbranque in the 25th minute after a cool set-up by Gyan, but he was tackled in the 6-yard box with the goal at his mercy. He is not a regular scorer, and has not netted since that 4-1 win at Hull a couple of years ago.
The Gunners threatened through Arhsavin after 28 min., but Sunderland’s tactics were proving just right for this game, closing down the supply for the home team’s strikers. The Sunderland back line were clearly not in a charitable mood, giving nothing away.
The pace of the game was being set by the away team, but French Footballer of the Year Nasri almost weaved his way through after 35 mins., but Bardsley blocked. Bendtner fired an overhead shot straight at Mignolet from the corner. Nasri fired straight at Mignolet minutes later, and Mignolet save from Bendtner on 40 mins, but Mignolet showed what a good shot-stopper he is as Arsenal increased their presence going forward at the end of the half.
Sessegnon drove across superbly from the corner flag, and this eventually set up The Black Cats’ 3rd corner, which was cleared by the home side. The furrowed brow of Arsene Wenger told its own story, as the half-time whistle went with Sunderland threatening.
So as I hoped and even predicted in my preview, Sunderland held Arsenal at half-time. No Nedum Onuoha to glide through the home defence just before the break as per the Chelsea game, but still a creditable performance. All set maybe for the introduction of Welbeck, and a more dominant second half upfront, perhaps. I like the spirit of this Sunderland side, with the whole defence and Sessegnon playing well in the first 45. Arshavin was superbly marshalled by Ferdinand.
The Gunners were being their normal selves in the early part of the second half, pushing the ball around nicely, but not really threatening. Sunderland had a period of dominance running up to the hour mark, Arsenal were clearly getting frustrated, with Bendtner as much use a chocolate teapot. We were just never going to let them just pass the ball into the net today.
Chamakh came on for Denilson, and he set up Arshavin, who forced a save from Mignolet in the 62nd on the break, this was really the first time the away defence was breached. Then Welbeck came on after 68 min., ending a 2-month absence. Great news for Sunderland’s “offensive” prospects, the quote an Arseneism. Why should Frenchmen come into the country and tell us how to speak, for goodness sake, great manager that he is?
Nasri had a chance from a free kick at the edge of the box after Sessagnon had fouled, but Mignolet was alive to it with another great save. Arsenal came closest in the 75th, when Marouane Chamakh hit the bar from Wilshere’s cross. The Sky commentators started to become animated as Arsenal had arguably their best period of pressure. Asamoah Gyan was substituted by Elmohamady with 12 mins remaining, with Steve Bruce looking to seal the point. Arshavin was played clean through but shot wide, with the commentators calling for a penalty. In the 80th minute though Sessegnon failed to spot Richardson’s run as he tried to pick out Welbeck on the edge of the Arsenal box. The Frenchman drove the ball across in the 83rd and Welbeck controlled the ball superbly for Sunderland’s best chance, which Szczesny pushed wide for the Cats’ 5th corner. Henderson shot but the ball was cleared.
I predict Wenger will be moaning about Arshavin’s chance, and the penalty claim, but he cut a frustrated figure all afternoon. He is experienced with handling pressure, but perhaps people telling him that if they win the rest of their games they will win the Championship, put a lot of pressure on him, which he was himself amplifying before the game. What does he expect, Sunderland to come to London and meekly surrender the point they arrived with?
This was a tactical victory for Steve Bruce who must be the happier of the two managers, and Sunderland did what Barcelona could not do, they came away with a point from the Emirates. The whole defence was heroic, and even though the London-based commentators thought Arsenal missed an opportunity, it was left to Warren Barton to bring some sanity as the game’s summariser – the former Mag said "all credit to Sunderland". The Black Cats did what they set out to do, and almost snatched all 3 points late on through Welbeck – I am sure I speak for all supporters, so glad he is back! Mignolet was man of the match for his spectacular saves, that is what he gets paid for, and he is good at it.
Icing on the cake – Newc**tle lost at home to Everton, so we stay above them in the table. So the 4-match winless run is at an end, in gritty style from The Lads, but not without skill. Roll on Liverpool. To quote the BBC live text at 16.40: Sunderland could've gone 1-0 up. My word. Stephane Sessegnon crosses from the right and Danny Welbeck produces a fabulous piece of control before rifling a shot in, forcing Wojciech Szczesny to save superbly low down to his right. From the corner, Titus Bramble blazes over. Dear me...
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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