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Saturday, 18 February 2012

Arsene, we have a problem. (Sunderland 2-0 Arsenal)

This game was one that was going to prove to be vitally important for Arsenal. It was around this time last season where their fortunes began to turn sour, and the signs were imminent for it to happen again. They received a thrashing from AC Milan in midweek, in what will surely be an inevitable exit from the Champions League, and if they fail to claim victory today, their ambitions of winning a cup this campaign will plunge into serious doubt. There is a magnitude of pressure on Arsene Wenger, and it wasn't going to help that they were facing high flying Sunderland. .. and fly high they did
Despite this, they had a fairly confident start to the game. They seemed composed when keeping possession throughout the opening five minutes, and also had a chance on goal through an Arteta free-kick, which flashed narrowly wide from 30 yards. However, this high tempo start was dampened by an injury to Francis Coquelin, who subsequently went off for Sebastian Squillaci. There were then injury scares for Djourou, Ramsey and Song, which allowed Sunderland to neutralise the threat that Arsenal displayed during the early stages. Martin O'Neill's side had appeals for a penalty when Alex Song flicked out his right hand towards the ball during a corner, but nothing was given.

Arsenal had several chances throughout the first half as they seemed to be the team in control. Gervinho was put through by Ramsey and managed to get a shot away while being hassled by Turner, which was saved from Mignolet (the resulting corner came to nothing) and then leading goalscorer Robin Van Persie made a run into the penalty box, but was tackled by John O'Shea, with half-hearted claims for a penalty. But on the 39th minute mark, it was Sunderland's turn to strike. A Larsson free kick was cleared out to Richardson on the edge of the box, who then hit a venomous half-volley towards goal, taking a deflection off of the substitute Squillaci and past the helpless Fabianski in the Arsenal net. Sunderland had taken the lead against the run of play, expanding the ever growing black cloud above Arsene Wenger's head.

The home side seized the initiative to go and try and get another goal before the break. Larsson took the ball onto the wing and whipped a delivery into the box, which was headed down by Colback towards Aaron Mclean. The Irish youngster's volley then hit the side netting after pressure from the flailing Fabianski. Arsenal failed to attempt a response before the half time whistle, and went into the dressing room slightly down heartened, knowing that their domination of the game should have really produced a more positive scoreline.

Second half began with Arsenal on the back foot, Mclean was running towards goal when he was brought down by Sagna on the edge of the box. The resulting set piece was put just over by Larsson. The away side’s defence was looking increasingly shaky. Djourou could have easily got a second yellow for a two footed challenge and made countless mishaps throughout the first half. Vermaelen was still having nightmares about his performance in Milan and Alex Song had to be brought into the centre of defence to replace the injured Squillaci (who was a substitute after an injury to the left back)

The only real chance the Gunners got in the next 20 minutes was a Robin Van Persie free kick, which was deflected away for another lacklustre corner, whilst Sunderland were now the one’s in the ascendancy to possibly get a second. The Tynside team were quick to close down any attacks that their opponents tried to initiate, and this resulted in ever more frustration for Wenger. Chances came and went, before the final nail in the coffin was driven in on the 77th minute. Sessegnon broke free (for not the first time) and shrugged off the challenge of Arteta. Larsson then picked up the through ball and struck against the inside of the post, and the rebound awkwardly fell infront of Oxlade -Chamberlin, who was powerless to do anything apart from divert into his own net. 

Looking tired and without purpose, the North Londoners nearly conceded a third, the ever present Sessegnon strolled through the defence to cross into Mclean, but a brilliant last ditch tackle from Sagna saved their blushes. The full time whistle must have held some sort of relief the travelling Gunners; the awful week being capped off by a diabolical cup exit. Arsenal will now be concentrating on getting a Champions League place for next season, and possibly overturning the deafeat they suffered in Italy, but judging by today's performance the comeback seems a million miles away...

Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, O'Shea, Turner, Richardson, Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon (Campbell 89)
Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Coquelin (Squillaci 11, Walcott 53), Song, Arteta, Gervinho, Ramsey (Rosicky 53), Oxlade-Chamberlain, van Persie.

BeeTeeSports Man Of The Match: Stefan Sessegnon

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