Surely it was not lost on anybody on a day when two classless cretins dragged the great game through the mud that one of the few truly worthy of the tag ‘legend’ bowed out of the Premiership with a moment of perfectly timed drama. Thierry Henry, it is not only your temporary team-mates of the last month who have benefited from your return. Thank you. I am privileged to have witnessed you playing so many times.
The nasty taste left by the lunchtime clash wasn’t helped by the first pitchside shots from Sunderland. The pitch at the Stadium of Light looked about as well covered as Wayne Rooney’s head, patches of growth breaking out on a bumpy surface. I was persuaded that I would not mention that had we lost, and we came close. In victory it should not be forgotten. Pitches like that belong in a long forgotten era in English football.
It was bad for both sides, lest we forget, and both struggled to take the game by the scruff of the neck in a strange opening half. The main talking point of the first half was the performance of the referee, Neil Swarbrick, who incurred the wrath of the home support for a number of decisions which replays showed he got spot on. Most contentious of them all came when Mertesacker stumbled on the pitted surface, not for the last time, and the ball bounced up onto his arm. I rip into referees most weeks, so it is only fair to praise a good performance.
We seemed to start the second half with an extra bit of something you can’t quite put your finger on, but fair play to whoever had stoked up the mood in the half-time interval. I was expecting our added urgency to yield a result against a tiring team who had a tough couple of hours on Wednesday night. My logic was proven flawed when Sunderland upped their game midway through the half and Szczesny twice had to be alert to deny Gardner. Henry came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, more to inject a degree of experience I would like to think.
With twenty minutes left Mertesacker, under no pressure from anything other than the craters beneath his feet, hit the deck with what looked like twisted ankle ligaments, and McClean made the most of his misfortune to put Sunderland ahead. No complaints from me about that. If it had happened at the other end I am certain we would have been as professional. As the BFG was stretchered off Ramsey entered the fray with Song dropping back. A bad moment brought about the change that would get Arsenal back in the game.
Five minutes later the young Welsh skipper let fly from the edge of the box and watched on as his effort struck both posts before spinning back over the line. 1-1. The pressure now was exclusively on the home goal, and with five minutes remaining a second match-turning substitution saw Arshavin replace Walcott. The Russian is the first to admit he has not been at his best this season. I suspect it is his last with us. I also hope the boo boys will leave him alone after his wonderful cross set up the crowning moment in added time.
Who would you want on the end of such an inviting ball. With 228 goals already behind him and just a minute left in his Premier League career it would just have to be Thierry Henry, wouldn’t it? Goal number 229 landed an additional two points that have hauled his beloved Arsenal back into the top four. The man brilliantly dubbed ‘the impact deity’ by the Arsenal Gent on Twitter applied the finish, ran to the adoring travelling faithful, and celebrated with players who will look back on his brief second spell with awe and gratitude.
It wasn’t a classic. It was never going to be on that surface, and one can only hope they can at least get the pasture flat for next week’s FA Cup tie at the same venue. Two consecutive wins after a January horribilis must provide a lift for all connected with the club. As I said beforehand we will face even harder tests, but momentum is being built.
Bring on Milan.
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