Arsenal fans came into this match hoping for a reaction to last weeks unexpected loss to Hull. True, we may have poopoo-ed all over Porto in midweek but many expected a sterner test against the Black Cats and rightly so. A good result in this game would go some way to convincing the doubters that we might actually achieve something in the league this season.
There was a surprise in the team selection when Samir Nasri was left out of the starting XI. Whether he hasn’t yet recovered from his injury or the rigours of Ramadan is unclear, but it meant that both Denilson and Song would be starting, when most would’ve expected one of them to be on the bench.
With the pre-match niceties out of the way, it was time for the lads to get more points on the board before yet another international break, and take advantage of any slip ups by their top four rivals who all have/had rather tricky looking fixtures this weekend.
Unfortunately Arsenal rarely do things that simple.
The first half was a turgid affair, Sunderland happy to sit back and let us have possession, obviously aware of our tendency to just pass the ball sideways in midfield.
The best chance of the half came to the home side, Almunia rushing out quickly to block Cisse’s shot after the forward had been put clean through by a glorious through ball by one of their midfielders, I don’t remember who.
Actually, I remember now, it was Theo, with his impression of a backpass
As the half wore on, we started taking pot-shots from midfield, perhaps some of the players have been reading various blogs and forums in the aftermath of last weeks catastrophe.
Unfortunately, the shots weren’t particularly good, Cesc had one that was straight at Gordon, though in the slippery conditions Craigy could quite easily spilt it into the path of Adebayor.
Denilson and Theo too had a try from far out, both shots fizzing wide.
So 0-0 after a turgid first half, and we were all calling out for subs/tactical changes blissfully unaware of the fact that we rarely do those before the hour mark is up.
Perhaps Arsene expected the team to step up a gear in the second half, and true to form, we did attack with a bit more urgency after the break, though it was still short of what was required to break down the stubborn home defence.
And then came the break through – or so we thought. Theo produced a burst of pace down the right and pulled the ball back for the onrushing Van Persie to rifle home. Celebrations were however cut short by the linesman flagging for something. Surely Ade wasn’t offside again, he hadn’t even been involved in the move. We then found out it was because the ball had gone out of play – according to the linesman anyway, when in fact the TV replay showed part of the ball was still in play. A cruel decision.
Surely the injustice of it would galvanize the team and they would go on to score anyway? Unfortunately not. We continued ‘attacking’ in the same casual manner, as i somehow expecting to be gifted a goal.
On came Big Nick Bendtner with around 25 minutes to play, replacing, to the bemusement of many, Theo. And it was he who fashioned our best chance of the game, after a neat one-two with Ade, he lifted a delightful leftfooted chip into the path of Van Persie, who suddenly found himself one on one with Gordon.
It is customary in these situations to place the ball either side of the keeper, but that’s not how Arsenal players do things, oh no, maybe Robin thought he could fire a shot so powerful that it would plow straight into Gordon and take him into the net with it, a bit like in Shaolin soccer. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way, and Gordon palmed away for a corner. Which of course came to nothing.
With 15 minutes to go, Denilson was – belatedly, in the eyes of most – replaced by Nasri.
And even more belatedly, on came Vela for Song. But by then a sucker punch had been delivered.
A Sunderland attack broke down, we won the ball outside our area, and in typical Arsenal fashion, we tried to be smart and play our way of trouble, despite the fact that our half was, strangely enough, teeming with Sunderland attackers. Under pressure, we conceded a throw-in, from which Sunderland passed the ball around a bit, before it arrived at the feet of Grant Leadbitter (what kind of name is that anyway), who fired a thunderous volley in off the underside off the bar and into the net. Not much Almunia could have done about that, but you have to wonder if GLB could’ve been closed down faster in midfield.
Anyway, as usual, that goal provided the wake-up call we needed, and suddenly we started attacking with more urgency. But against a team intent on holding on to their lead, it was always going to be a tall ask.
In the 92nd minute, we won a corner. Of course, I failed to get excited, given how our corners are usually as dangerous as a bunny holding a water pistol, and wearing a hat with the word ‘boo’ written over it.
But this time Robin swung in a rather wicked curler, and up jumped little Cesc, heading powerfully into the net. Of course before I could start celebrating, I had to check if the linesman had thought up of some reason to disallow the goal. But he’d obviously had enough controversy for one day.
So there you had it, Cesc’s first goal of the season, and a fine time for it to come.
1-1 it finished. Last minute draws can sometimes feel like wins, but not this one. We missed a chance to go top, we had, on paper, the easiest game out of the big four (although many now doubt our eligibility to be included in that elite group), and bottled it.
31 games of the season still left to play, and plenty of time to put things right, but a few things need to change, that’s for sure.
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