Sunderland 1 (McClean 70) – Arsenal 2 (Ramsey 75, Henry 90+1′)
Man of the Match – Craig Gardner (Sunderland)
It was written in the script. There is absolutely no doubt about it.
Thierry Henry showed his class yet again as Arsenal snatched a vital 3 points, away at Sunderland, in injury time, over a boggy pitch and damp atmosphere.
On a day overshadowed by the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra incident, at Old Trafford, Arsenal dug in deep to crucially extract 3 points off a dodgy Sunderland side, who, towards the end, were visibly exhausted, more so, because of their exertions in midweek against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, a game which went to 120 minutes.
Sunderland were set out to frustrate their opponents, and the pitch didn’t help the visitors either. The Black Cats started with Colback and Gardner in central midfield, and the ever-improving McClean and ex-Arsenal winger Seb Larsson on the wings.
The first half was played at a very poor pace, as Arsenal weren’t able to play their usual passing game, on a pitch that was cut to bits and pieces. Craig Gardner was doing all the dirty work in midfield, and was highly influential, in keeping the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta at bay.
Arsenal’s first shot fell to Theo Walcott, whose shot went narrowly wide. It was a frustrating performance for both Walcott and Chamberlain, as they were well-marked by former Manchester United players Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley remarkably well. van Persie rarely was a threat to Sunderland.
The second half, too began with a similiar pace. But, sprang to life soon enough, with Arsenal heaping pressure on Sunderland, but to no end product. Sunderland grew in confidence, and were denied brilliantly by Wojciech Szczesny on two ocassions.
Both came off the foot of the impressive Gardner. His shot outside the box, rocketed past a muddle of players, but Szczesny managed to parry it away. He had another shot, minutes later, but the young Pole was up for it, as he parried it on his left side, with the on rushing Frazier Campbell, looking for a rebound.
In the 70th minute, it seemed like the same old story for Arsenal. Per Mertesacker got hold off the ball, but lost his footing, thanks to the poor condition of the pitch, and injured his ligament. McClean made most of the situation and scored the opening goal of the match.
The German was substituted with Aaron Ramsey, who had an immediate impact. His long range shot directed off the post, hit the opposite pole, before going in. Arsenal had a lifeline.
Then, a stroke of magic. Theo Walcott off. Andrei Arshavin in. The much beleaguered Russian, who was booed just weeks ago, provided a cross to Robin van Persie, which was comfortably saved by Mignolet.
Arshavin repeated the trick minutes later. This time, it was King Henry on the receiving end, and he put the ball in the back of the net.
The relief among the Arsenal faithful was pulpable. Arsenal now are in 4th spot, equal on points and goal difference with Chelsea, but ahead on goal difference.
Midweek will be Henry’s last game for the club (unless ofcourse Wenger decides to bring him back next year as well) at the San Siro against a formidable opposition, AC Milan. And, a week later, Arsenal will be back at the Stadium of Light for the FA Cup.
Szczesny (8.5) – Made some brilliant saves.
Sagna (7) – Decent outing for the Frenchman, who looks fully fit now.
Mertesacker (7) – Unfortunate injury, which unfortunately lead to a Sunderland goal.
Koscielny (7) – Another calm game from the Frenchman. Warded off Sessegnon and Campbell well.
Vermaelen (7) – Yet again, another good display at left-back. Will probably play in his favorite position in midweek.
Song (7) – Lost the ball a few times today, but pivotal to the midfield.
Rosicky (7) – Not his best game, but his pace on a drab day of football was good to watch.
Arteta (7.5) – Controlled the game well for Arsenal, yet again.
Walcott (5.5) – No pace. No guile. Wenger needs to rethink about him.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (7) – ‘The Ox’ was stifled well by Sunderland.
van Persie (7) – A rarely average performance by the Dutchman.
Ramsey (7.5) – His rest has done him a world of good. Plus he has a goal. Should do him wonders, ahead of the Milan game.
Henry (8.5) – Legendary.
Arshavin – Came on too late for a rating, but provided the game’s decisive moment.
Overall Team Rating – 7.19