Feb 9th, 2013 by 'holic
Who would have thought a week after we got the return fixture with Stoke out of the way that we would face an even sterner physical test at Sunderland? This was a match best described as beauty and the beast, and not beauty versus the beast. For the second week running we went toe to toe with opponents clearly testing that soft Arsenal underbelly of days in the not too distant past, and passed the test with flying colours.
From the off the challenges flew in, and despite an inevitable Cattermole booking inside ninety seconds the extremely poor Mr Taylor allowed much to go without sanction. Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, and Jack Wilshere in particular started snapping back as we put a stranglehold on the middle of the park. After so much had been let go it was frustrating to see Carl Jenkinson pick up a yellow, arguably warranted though it was. Much worse had been ignored.
The more the half wore on the more the midfield battlers carried the game to their opponents. Wilshere caught the eye as usual with his willingness to commit his markers but Ramsey too was involved heavily as the intricate passing moves appeared with greater frequency. Mignolet had already pulled off a string of good saves before Olivier Giroud beat him, but sadly the far post also. Finally the breakthrough arrived when an impressive passage of play ended with Santi Cazorla’s deflected effort hitting the target.
In the ten minutes that remained of the half Mignolet again denied us the cushion of a second goal thwarting both Theo Walcott and Ramsey, and how the latter would have deserved a goal for his performance today. Rarely was the makeshift back four stretched, with Bacary Sagna putting in an assured display alongside Per Mertesacker in the centre of the defence. They were destined to get much busier after the break.
When N’Diaye clattered Wilshere early in the half the England international was substituted, hopefully as a precaution. Sunderland had started the half as they had started the match. Ironically that meant an introduction from the bench for Abou Diaby, so seldom seen since Dan Smith’s ‘tackle’ on him in this fixture seven years ago.
Around the hour mark Jenkinson earned a second yellow for a foolish challenge on Sessegnon. All of a sudden the game became end to end stuff as Sunderland sensed an advantage. Not surprisingly an aerial bombardment was launched and Sagna in particular, but the defensive unit in general, stood firm and repelled almost everything. When they didn’t Wojciech Szczesny was there, producing his best performance for many a long day, and earning at least a share of any man of the match judgements, I would have thought.
The ten men didn’t just dig in at the back though. Walcott all but sealed it, only to be denied by a post. Giroud and Cazorla miscued when it looked as though we might settle the nerves of the watching Gooners. Four added minutes seemed to take an age, but one last Sunderland corner was repelled and the players rightly celebrated three points made critical by the victories for Tottenham and Chelsea. They will take some catching, but the evidence of this afternoon is that Arsenal have the stomach for a scrap.
We will need it.
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