Sunderland’s recent run of consecutive defeats came to a welcome end with a resilient performance at the Emirates.
With Steve Bruce confirming Craig Gordon’s knee injury in midweek, Simon Mignolet once again started in goal, and what a blessing in disguise it was. The Belgian proved a steadfast last line of defence for us throughout. Steed Malbranque was back in the side at the expense of Elmohamady. The fit-again Danny Welbeck was only deemed sufficiently ready for a place on the substitute’s bench, however, so Asamoah Gyan once again forged a lone furrow up front.
Despite the expected Carling Cup backlash from Arsenal, it was Sunderland who started the better. During this spell, Malbranque was an influential presence; tenacious in the tackle and elusive on the ball. On the other flank, Stephane Sessegnon was providing the penetration to complement Malbranque’s persistence, and it was he who produced the first real piece of quality football in the game. Released by Henderson, Sessegnon danced around Cliché before seeing his shot well saved by Szczesny in the Arsenal goal.
The lads were not in the in the ascendency for long, however, with the mercurial Jack Wilshire soon beginning to take a grasp of the game for Arsenal in midfield with some clever passing, but for all Wilshere was creative, Nicolas Bendtner was wasteful. The Arsenal striker first failed to get on the end of a cross from the left with the goal beckoning before twice being denied by Simon Mignolet.
The second half started much the same as the first. Sunderland looked to strangle the hosts out of the game with some early possession, but once again Arsenal were able to wrestle control of the game in midfield, although this time it was Samir Nasri assuming the role of the great midfield conductor. A spell of near total Arsenal dominance and pressure followed as the half progressed. One-time Sunderland target Marouane Chamakh was brought on and made an instant impression. Mignolet saved brilliantly from a Nasri free kick, Chamakh rattled the bar with a header from a delicious Wilshere cross, and Arshavin was twice denied; first by Mignolet and then by a superb piece of defending by Bramble.
Just when an Arsenal goal was looking inevitable, it was Sunderland who finished the stronger and looked most likely to nick it. A quite brilliant swivel and strike from Welbeck looked destined to nestle in Szczesny’s bottom right corner, but the Pole produced a save equal to that of anything his opposite number had produced at the other end to turn it around the post for a corner. Henderson, who was industrious yet largely ineffective throughout, and Bramble came close from the resultant corner, but a breakthrough could not be found.
Arsenal could count themselves unlucky to see Arshavin adjudged offside before putting the ball in the net late on, but ultimately they were unable to find a way past Mignolet and the imperious John Mensah and Sunderland make their way home with a hard-earned and very welcome point and can take real confidence from rediscovering their defensive resolve with our tough run of fixtures drawing to an end.
22 Mignolet – 8/10 – Excellent display of shot-stopping.
29 Ferdinand - 6/10 – Considerably better than last week, but no more than neat and tidy.
02 Bardsley – 6/10 – Combative and full of endeavour as always.
05 Mensah – 8/10 – An imperious performance. Strong and composed.
19 Bramble – 7/10 – Defended well, but lacked some composure when on the ball.
28 Sessegnon – 7/10 – Flashes of real quality, impeccable technique, but not much product.
08 Malbranque – 6/10 – Started well but faded badly.
11 Muntari – 8/10 – His best game in a Sunderland shirt by some distance.
10 Henderson – 6-10 – Industrious but frustrating. Continuation of his recent form.
03 Richardson – 6/10 – Never quite happened for him today. Can’t fault the effort.
33 Gyan – 6/10 – He never quite seemed at the races today. Never really held the ball for long enough.
17 Welbeck - 7/10 – Brilliant effort on the turn. Welcome back Danny.
27 Elmohamady – 5/10 – Never got involved.
25 Colback – 5/10 – Biggest contribution was his booking which stopped a dangerous counter attack.
A superb result for the boys, and we have every reason to be confident going into the next couple against Liverpool & Man City. Encouraging to have Welbeck back, and hopefully more options next week with Fraizer Campbell.
Superb stuff all round. Oh, and if any Arsenal fan feels like giving you grief for our physical and defensive performance, they'll be doing the same thing against Barcelona next week. Speaking of them, perhaps we're even better then them after snatching a draw where they lost?
Ok, I'm a little carried away, but great point. Ha'way the lads!