Date: 6th March 2011 at 11:27am
Written by:

With some ghosts exorcised with the midweek slaying of Orient and with Chelsea doing us something of a favour, there was a day of destiny feeling about the Sunderland match. Yet any pre match confidence was tempered by a look at our injury list, with the likes of Walcott, van Persie, and Fabregas missing. The equivalent injury list for United would see Bebe and Obertan in starting berths. We knew it wouldn`t be easy to break Sunderland down and so it proved. Arsene opted for Denilson and Diaby in central midfield, which I felt was an error even before the game started. Personally, with the players we had injured, I would have put Rosicky in and had Wilshere sitting in with either Diaby or Denilson.

The first half was very flat indeed, with Sunderland`s organised pressing game comfortably dealing with what little probing threat Arsenal offered. In fact, Sunderland had the better openings on the counter attack in the early phase of the game. Sessignon jinked past Gael Clichy and arrowed a shot towards the bottom corner which Szczesny clawed out. Arsenal`s first real chance of note took nearly half an hour to arrive when Clichy sent a low cross in from the left which just evaded the outstretched Bendtner. When a team is as well organised as Sunderland, you need a piece of skill to open them up and that usually entails running at them and committing them. Nasri managed to do just that as he collected Bendtner`s pass on the right, he jinked between three Sunderland players before arriving at the by line, but he`d just run out of space and his attempted cut back was blocked by Bardsley.

The resulting corner from Wilshere dropped for Bendtner, whose improvised overhead kick fell into the grateful arms of Mignolet. A yard either side of the Belgian and Arsenal would have been in the lead. It was one of those days. But Bendtner was to be denied again minutes later in slightly less fortuitous circumstances. Wilshere probed into the right hand channel, lofted a ball over the Sunderland defence for Bendtner, who had time and space and an acute angle to work with. His volley was headed straight for the top corner, but Mignolet thrust out a palm and turned the ball over. But all in all, it had been a rather tepid half and to go back into the dressing rooms goalless was about correct on the balance of play. Arsenal were clearly lacking creativity.

The situation did not improve hugely in the second half until Chamakh entered the fray at the expense of one of the defensive midfielders- an area of our pitch that was clearly over staffed. Chamakh`s impact was immediate as he held off Baramble from Sagna`s pass down the line. The Moroccan sloped to the by line and cut the ball back for Arshavin, but the pass was a little too meaty, meaning Arshavin had to take it first time. He hit his shot straight at the keeper with a good portion of the goal to aim at. The Gunners began to increase the heat and Sessignon`s careless foul on Koscielny on the edge of the box yielded a free kick. Nasri dinked his effort towards the corner, but Mignolet beat it out with a strong hand. Nasri then found Wilshere on the left, he clipped an inch perfect cross in for Marouane Chamakh, but his header pinged back off the face of the crossbar. Sometimes in football, you just need the ball to do you a favour. On days like this, that doesn`t happen.

The home side continued to press and Nasri brilliantly skipped away from Henderson inside his own half before sending a slide rule pass to Arshavin that sent him clear. Bramble clearly tugged his arm as he moved into the area, but Arshavin stayed on his feet and was penalised by the officials for doing so. As he shaped to shoot, the stumbling Bramble shoved Arshavin in the back with two hands, causing the shot to fly well wide. It wasn`t even subtle, both hands on Arshavin`s back. If you cannot see that that is a shove, you are not good enough to officiate at this level. Simple. It wasn`t a difficult call in the slightest. But as Arsenal pressed, the Black Cats did briefly threaten to ruin the Gunners` day completely. Sessignon showed great skill to shimmy past Clichy on the right wing before sending a cross into the box, which Welbeck controlled, turned and volleyed towards the bottom corner, only for Szczesny to brilliantly claw the ball around the post. The response of Koscielny and Szczesny to last week`s blunder was a bright spot on a frustrating day.

From the resulting corner, Henderson connected with Sessignon`s delivert, but Szczesny blocked again, Bramble widly swung at the rebound, sending it over the bar. The Gunners continued to carry the fight and should have had their reward when Bendtner played Arshavin in on goal, the Russian skipped past Mignolet and put the ball in the net only to be denied by the linesman`s flag. Replays showed Arshavin was onside. However, I tend to get less miffed about offside calls, they`re pretty borderline and it`s fair to say we got away with a generous flag at Wembley last weekend. I have a decent view of these calls from where I sit and I offered little complaint at the time the flag went up. It was only the replay that provided the frustration. Where I do get annoyed, is when a professional referee does not deem two hands shoving an opponent to the floor from behind to be a foul. As I`ve said, on days like this, you need those incidents to go your way. Arsenal pushed and caused Mackem hearts to flutter when Bendtner flicked on Rosicky`s cross, but Mignolet clutched the ball in the crowded area.

It proved to be an incredibly frustrating afternoon. Arsenal did not get going until an hour into the match once the manager seemed to clock that there wasn`t really any need for two defensive midfielders- not enough creativity had come from that part of the pitch. However, I thought we did enough to scrape out a scrappy 1-0 and had decisions gone our way, we would have done and everyone would be singing to a different tune this morning. But things didn`t drop for us and we have to dust ourselves down and get on with it. It would help if the injury situation eased slightly over the coming weeks, but we`ve all pretty much given up on the likelihood that we`ll ever enjoy a good run with injuries at the crucial part of the season. Now we have to hope for Liverpool to do us a favour. I shan`t be doing a match report for Barcelona as I don`t arrive back in England until Wednesday evening. Hopefully when next we speak, our season will have received the kind of boost that will put yesterday into a brighter perspective.LD.

53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY, 20.DJOUROU, 22.CLICHY, 15.DENILSON (29.Chamakh `62), 2.DIABY, 19.WILSHERE, 8.NASRI(c), 23.ARSHAVIN, 52.BENDTNER. Unused: 1.Almunia, 16.Ramsey, 18.Squillaci, 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs.

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