Sunderland slump to a 1-0 home defeat the hands of Arsenal, with a spirited second half performance not enough to compensate for a sloppy first half which the visitors dominated. Our full match report is here and waiting for you.
The game kicked off at a frantic pace with both sides pressing forward as often as possible. Within the first 5 minutes Mignolet had saved smartly from Walcott twice, Alfred N'Diaye had headed over the bar and Lee Cattermole was in the book. The Teessider's inclusion was somewhat of a surprise and he only lasted 45 minutes, but he marked his comeback with a typical caution.
Cattermole sat deep while N'Diaye played further up the pitch closer to Fletcher. In truth though, the Frenchman was everywhere in the opening stages, making his presence felt in the midfield. Craig Gardner meanwhile was having a positive impact at right back, both defensively and going forward. An Arsenal interchange in and around the box led to an excellent tackle from the right back who won the ball from Giroud, a challenge which tpyified his afternoon.
That particular challenge led to a Sunderland break, which ended with frustration for Sunderland. Sessegnon was unlucky with an attempted square ball. This too would prove to be typical of Sunderland going forward on a frustrating day.
Sunderland attempted to exploit set pieces, with Sessegnon going down a number of times inside the Arsenal half. A floated free kick from set piece was flicked on by Fletcher, coming to nothing, while a Gardner free kick floated onto the Scottish striker's head was easily claimed by Szczesny.
This was part of a cracking opening 20 minutes to the game, which saw Arsenal break dangerously a number of times, only to find themselves let down by poor finishing, exemplified by a wasteful Giroud shot across goal. Sunderland's back four was generally coping well, with Bramble making an impressive interception from an attempted Wilshere through ball. Mignolet had been the busier of the two goalkeepers, but Sunderland retained a threat going forward
Carl Jenkinson picked up a silly booking in the first half and Sunderland began to target the Arsenal right back, which would prove to be crucial later in the game.
On countless occasions Sunderland's a lack of quality and poor decision making in the final third let them down. Sessegnon blazed high and wide when Gardner was in a better position. The full back later found space on the right only to put in a dreadful cross after great work from N'Diaye who had won the ball from Giroud.
After the twenty minute mark, the tide turned fully in Arsenal's favour. Santi Cazorla began to take control of the game. After another fantastic Mignolet save to deny Ramsey, it was to be the little Spaniard who scored the game's only goal. Weak play from Sessegnon was pounced upon by Arsenal and an exchange of passes between Walcott and Wilshere ended with Cazorla driving home.
Sunderland continued to defend well but lost any sort of momentum going forward. Fletcher found himself increasingly isolated and N'Diaye began to drop deeper in midfield. Some great link up between Bramble and Johnson ended up with the English winger's cross easily being claimed by Gunners' keeper Szczesny, summing up the lack of potency in the Black Cats' side.
Sunderland's Belgian keeper was called into action time and again before half time, making himself big as he does so well to keep Ramsey out and claiming easily from a tame Walcott effort. Arsenal finished the half stronger, probably disappointed not to be further ahead.
Cattermole was substituted at half time, replaced by Sebastian Larsson. Early Sunderland pressing resulted in a penalty claim as Sessegnon went down in the box, but to no avail. Wilshere who had been in the thick of the action was then replaced by Diaby. Sunderland continued to press but were frustratingly impotent going forward.
In an attempt to freshen the attack up, O'Neill swapped his wingers round with Sessegnon coming to the left and Johnson shifting to the right. It was Arsenal who continued to threaten though, with the wasteful Giroud firing wide yet again.
A Sunderland corner was headed over by O'Shea at the near post before Sessegnon brilliantly won the ball in midfield, broke forward and teed up Fletcher who shot wide. Sunderland's best chance of the game so far had come and gone, but the Wearsiders had still failed to get anything on target.
Arsenal continued to threaten whenever they came forward, with the excellent Cazorla shooting across goal and wide after bamboozling the Sunderland defence with stepovers in the box.
The winger swap then paid dividends as Sessegnon skipped past Jenkinson who foolishly dove into a challenge on the Benin international. A second yellow card was produced and the full back sent off. Frustratingly for Sunderland, Arsenal initially maintained control of the game with 10 men. Ramsey slotted comfortably in at right back. Sunderland's frustrations were demonstrated by Larsson picking up a booking for dissent, while Arsenal's chances were added to by yet another wasted effort from Giroud.
Danny Graham, the target of boos when Swansea visited the Stadium of Light in recent weeks was cheered onto the field. He replaced N'Diaye, O'Neill looking to give Fletcher some much needed support in attack against 10 man opposition.
It was Arsenal who came closest again, with Diaby spurning a golden opportunity. Some wonderful passing in and around the box carved Sunderland open but the Frenchman fluffed his opportunity. This was followed by chances for Cazorla, who fired over, and Walcott, who was extremely unlucky to see his shot hit the post. 10 man Arsenal on the break were more of a threat than 11 man Sunderland who were pressing to little effect. Plenty of corners and free kicks failed to lead to shots on target.
Despite being a man light, Arsenal were able to dominate periods of the game as Sunderland's midfield lacked any sort of presence in the absence of N'Diaye. Colback got himself booked after some awful play in the middle of the park, sluggish in bringing the ball down before giving it away and cynically fouling.
Sunderland finally began to get a grip of things as the game approached its end, with Fletcher and Graham linking up well. A Fletcher right footed shot was well saved by Szczesny as the Black Cats finally registered an effort on target. It was a good one at that. Soon after, it was groans all round as Danny Rose pulled up and headed down the tunnel. David Vaughan eventually made his way onto the field after a period of Arsenal dominance at 10 v 10.
Sunderland had finally found their rhythm, creating chances and shooting on goal. A Bramble flick on was headed toward goal by Fletcher but Arsenal's Polish goalkeeper proved to be its match. Bramble himself then had a chance from a corner, which left the Stadium of Light in a state of stunned silence. I was at the other end of the ground and must admit to being a little unsure of exactly what had occurred but it seemed a good chance had been passed up.
Injury time was even more frantic than the opening 5 minutes. Adam Johnson forced a save from Szczesny, cutting in from the right and shooting at goal, while Arsenal had two magnificent opportunities to seal the points. Both Giroud and Cazorla shot over when they should have squared the ball for a tap in. It was unfortunately not costly for the Gunners as Sunderland ran out of ideas and time.
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