Match Report: Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal - Özil Shines But Refereeing Woes Deny Black Cats

Laurence Griffiths

A goal from Giroud and an Aaron Ramsey brace gives Arsenal victory at the Stadium of Light, as Sunderland were left to stew over an atrocious refereeing decision which may well have denied them a hard-fought point.

There was no denying which team were the better of the two sides at the Stadium of Light this afternoon. Arsenal were quicker, their football fluid, and in Mesut Özil they have a genuine star; one that would better any team in the world. The German had an excellent debut as Arsenal dominated the first half, and even though they certainly had more quality than a hard-working Sunderland side, they still have a refereeing howler to thank for them taking all three points from Wearside.

This shouldn't have been the case after the Gunners dominated posession in the first half against a side lacking an attacking edge. Mesut Özil was at the heart of everything, picking apart Sunderland's fragile back four, and it was no surprise that he played a huge part in Arsenal's opener. The German playmaker was on the receiving end of the ball over the top, where he took it down sweetly, looked up, and found Giroud in the middle, on the edge of the box with a lovely pass. The French striker continued his good form and swept  the ball into the bottom corner.

They would have been even further ahead going into the break if it wasn't for a wasteful Theo Walcott. Özil twice split open the Sunderland defence to set the England winger free only for Kieran Westwood to deny him with two good saves. Jack Wilshere also set up Walcott with a lovely ball just before half time but his teammate headed wide.

The home side's best chances came from set-pieces and crosses, with new signing Charis Mavrias, making his first start in place of an injured Emanuele Giaccherini, looking dangerous early on. His corner found Diakite at near post, whose header thundered off the bar. Jozy Altidore also looked threatening, stinging Szczesny's hands with a strike from distance. As it was, the Black Cats spent most of the half trying to keep it at 1-0, and will have been pleased to go into the break with that scoreline in tact.

Sunderland proved just how important it was the keep the score down just minutes into the second half. The Black Cats started well after the break and when Johnson got the ball and ran into the box, he was clumsily tripped by Laurent Koscielny. Craig Gardner, having just replaced Vaughan at half time, converted the penalty, smashing the ball low in the left hand corner.

The home team burst into life and pressured Arsenal's defence. Adam Johnson, aided by some excellent runs from right back Ondrej Celustka, found room to cut inside, but his shot went wide. Sunderland had the ball in the net not long after their equaliser, when Steven Fletcher poked it in from close range. Replays showed he was a good distance offside. Craig Gardner came within a whisker of getting his second goal when his free-kick went past everyone and clipped the inside of the post before somehow bouncing out.

The Gunners, under the cosh for most of the second half up to that part, responded and began to force Sunderland back. Özil continued to threaten, finding Gibbs with a lovely pass, only for his cross to be just about cleared by Roberge.

Arsenal's sudden burst of pressure paid off and it proved to be a excellent goal that put them back in front. Taking advantage of Sunderland's inability to get the ball out of their own box, the away side continued to batter their opponents goal. Jack Wilshere, finding space on the right, played it to Ramsey on the edge of the box who struck a thunderous left foot volley past Keiran Westwood to put Arsenal back in front.

However, Sunderland should have been level just minutes later, and it was only as a result of a baffling refereeing decision that they weren't. The ball was played through with Sanga and Altidore battling each other to get there first. Sagna appeared to pull at the US striker, but the latter's strength won out and he went clean through on goal. His shot trickled past Szchesny, just crossing the line before the Arsenal defence could get back. Sunderland thought they were level and Altidore thought he'd gotten his first league goal for the club, but referee Martin Atkinson inexplicably brought play back for a free-kick for the foul by Sagna. It was a terrible piece of refereeing, especially when the Frenchman was only given a booking, when clearly denying a goalscoring opportunity (or not denying one, as it turned out). The resulting free-kick went well over from Gardner.

To be fair to Craig Gardner, he produced one of his best 45 minutes in a Sunderland shirt, constantly getting on the ball in good areas. He had a chance to give the home side the equaliser they should have had minutes earlier, but his ball went across the face of goal, just beyond Fletcher and substitute Borini.

The Black Cats were still stewing over the poor decision, and their bad luck was emphasised not long afterwards when Arsenal put themselves 3-1 up. A well-worked piece of quick passing football ended with Giroud setting Ramsey free on goal. The Welshman calmly finished to get his second of the game.

Sunderland tried to find a way back into it, but the forth goal of the match took the wind of their sails somewhat. Arsenal saw out the game and recorded a win. While it would be easy to blame the defeat entirely on that one poor refereeing decision, it should be noted that the Gunners, and especially Özil were very impressive, and on the balance of play, can rightly claim they deserved the win.

However, the home side can still feel very hard done by that they didn't at least have a chance to see the game out for a point, with Martin Atkinson's decision to bring back play being an extraordinarily stupid one. A furious Di Canio was sent off from the touchline late in the game, surprisingly only for the first time as Sunderland manager, but he can look for the positives ahead of next weekend's game at West Brom, and with the Black Cats now bottom of the table, they could really do with their first win of the season next time out.

We'll have more match reaction in our stream HERE shortly, and further stuff in the coming days so stick around!

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