Shortly after Chelsea beat Aston Villa every Arsenal fan knew that a win is a must if we are to seriously look like reclaiming a Champions League space. Sunderland seemed like the kind of team we can beat at home to kick start the revival but i reckon many fans (i was one) had this doubt at the back of their minds that despite an opportunity arising, we were just not going to take it.
Problems seem to have come full circle. Last season and for the start of this season the fact that we were leaking goals was our biggest killer and so many questions were asked about the Arsenal centreback partnership. Now our defence, including the much discussed William Gallas are forming a formidable line to crack. Unbeaten in 13 games and also 3 games (now 4) without conceding.
The trouble now is that the front line is malfunctioning and it is costing us dearly. You would think 12 premier league games unbeaten would mean a mountain of points but sadly that has not been the case. A multitude of draws due to our inability to score has kept our tally very modest and it is not doing our defence justice.
This game was yet another one of those frustrating afternoons.
Great news did come in the form of new signing Andrei Arshavin who made his first start for Arsenal. Rumour had it he would come off the bench against Sunderland but Wenger thought him ready for action from the off and he started on the right hand side.
Arsenal lineup: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Arshavin, Denilson, Song, Nasri, RVP, Bendtner
Sunderland lineup: Fulop, McCartney, Tainio, Ferdinand, Collins, Ben Haim, Whitehead, Richardson, Reid, Malbranque, Jones
The first half was very tit for tat, Sunderland were not afraid to counter attack with belief and the gunners looked determined to put their lack of goalscoring behind them. One great aspect of this game was the manner in which Arshavin started his Arsenal career. He was confident, sprightly and showed that he is not afraid to shoot which is fantastic. He was cheered for his first touch and more than earned the ovation he got when he was subbed.
Early in the game a woeful pass by McCarthy fell at Arshavins feet and he had lots of space down the middle. He stormed towards the box and after weighing up the option launched a shot from 25 yards which just flashed past the post. It was a good effort and the replay showed it was closer than it first looked.
An amazing chance fell at the feet of the only man it seems capable of scoring in the prem at the moment and that is RVP. Denilson played a dinky one over the defence and Van Persie ran through down the left side of the box with the keeper running out to cut out the angle. Once again Robin had something special to show us as he decided to chip the keeper rather than place it past him. Fulop was stranded but unfortunately the chip flew just wide and many fans were left holding their head after thinking they were about to witness yet another class Van Persie goal.
Arshavin then gave us another glimpse of his talents when he jinked and dazzled his way past 2 players outside the box and unleashed a stinging shot which Fulop had to use all his skills to deflect past the post for a corner.
Sunderland then decided it was time to cause a stir and they had a spell which easily could have seen the gunners 1 behind. A Ferdinand rasper was saved by Almunia and then he had to deal with a great chance by Dean Whitehead who was set through in the box after some good team build up. Further strikes by Whitehead and Reid came within this very decent spell for Sunderland.
It must be pointed out that Almunia was very strong and commanding in the box, claiming everything he needed to do and looked about as confident as i have ever seen him.
Half an hour gone and Arshavin surged down the left and crossed in a splendid ball to Bendtner who headed a slow but accurate ball towards the corner of the goal. Fulop again was at full strain and just managed to bundle it past the post. Bendtner looked gutted and that feeling that it may not happen started to creep in.
The half went on frustratingly as Sunderland defended like they did all game, dogged and uniform. They nearly snatched the lead at the end of the half when Kenwyn Jones looked certain to score as he burst into the box. Luckily for Arsenal Sagna thwarted him at the nick of time and saw Arsenal onto the half time whistle via a missed Toure shot at the other end.
The second half was nowhere near as eventful. Arshavin looked tired and not the same player (he was eventually subbed for Vela) and Sunderland looked tired and unwilling to be as daring going forward as they were in the first half. This left a fully defensive Sunderland with a good gameplan sitting in wait for an Arsenal attack who have not been as sure of themselves as they used to be.
So many attacks came down the wings, especially the left but the majority were easily cut out by Sunderland serious frustration started whizzing around the stands.
After a Van persie free kick was punched away by Fulop the best chances of the half fell to Carlos Vela who spurned an amazing chance wide when he looked certain to score and also when he completely fluffed a shot, hitting nothing but air.
You could see the worry sink into the Arsenal players when they realised it could be groundhog day again and a really woeful last 10 minutes set in.
Suddenly in injury time a fantastic chance fell to Van Persie who was played in by Eboue who flicked on a route on long ball. It was the kind of chance we have seen him power in many many times despite being quite a difficult finish but unfortunately Fulop was able to smother it and see the game out for a draw.
The full time whistle blew and boo’s rung out all around stadium, the fans know now that Champions League qualification is now firmly in the “unlikely” box rather than the “likely” and they vocally let their concerns be heard. We are now 6 points behind Villa and they have a better goal difference, it is going to take one hell of an effort to catch up and our attack does not look up to the task.
One good thought is that Arshavin looks like he is going to be a superstar and may be able to do something to sort us out in the goals department. What we really need though is someone to do the Myagi grip on Fabregas and Walcott so they can come back sooner, we really need them and i hope that they return ahead of time.
All i will say is stick with it and help encourage the lads through the season, things look bad but there may just be a spark left within this team to make something happen.