09 February 2013

Arsenal 1-0 Sunderland

Even playing with 10 men for most of the second half, Arsenal was able to dispatch Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. It took a brilliant display from Wojciech Szczęsny, who simply could not be beat today, making all manner of saves, especially in the second half when Carl Jenkinon's second yellow saw him sent off in the 62nd minute, Jack Wilshere came off for Abou Diaby after sustaining an injury, and Sunderland's desperation impelled them forward. Szczęsny parried and punched away everything they could throw at him, getting lucky on more than one occasion, but he was easily the man of the match in my book.  Not to be outdone, Mignolet had himself a superb game but for a sizzling shot from Cazorla in the 36th minute that was enough to earn three points for Arsenal. This keeps us on pace with Spurs and Chelsea, who each won their matches. We'll have to wait until tomorrow for Everton-Man U. For now, we get to enjoy a spell in 5th place.


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Things hardly got off to a flying start as Koscielny suffered an injury during warm-ups, forcing Jenkinson and pushing Sagna to centerback. It only took Jenkinson eight minutes to earn his first yellow for a clumsy challenge, setting the stage for his departure for a similar scything of Sessègnon in the 62nd minute (I like alliteration, sorry). I like Jenkinson, but at this point, he is still a bit far out of his depth. I would have preferred that we held onto Djourou and loaned out Jenkinson instead, giving him a chance to play. Djourou may not set any hearts on fire, but he at least feels more reliable to me.
At any rate, Sunderland were looking threatening, but we were just as dangerous, peppering Mignolet often. A few nice saves against Walcott and Ramsey, along with a near-hit from Giroud, kept them in the game. Then, it was Wilshere's turn. He sliced through Sunderland's midfield, beating three players before laying the ball off nicely to Walcott. Inwardly, I worried that Walcott might keep it for himself--not that this would be a bad decision, necessarily as he received the ball at the top of the 18 with one man to beat. Instead, he turned to his right and laid the ball off for Cazorla, who one-timed it with his left. The ball somehow found its way through the legs of one defender before sliding just under Mignolet's outstretched hand. That was about it for the first half.

The second half started with Wilshere walking off after an injury. No word yet on him, but he was walking comfortably at the end of the game. Frankly, and more on this later, I don't mind him sitting down for a while. The past week has seen him elevated to a pantheon of players, and the young man could use a break. In the same week that we learn that Paul Gascoigne continues to struggle, is it really the time to start comparing Wilshere to him? Let's give him some time before anointing him just yet. 


Without Wilshere, one could sense a little less grit in Arsenal's game, and Sunderland has a few players who can cause mischief. Sessègnon and Fletcher were darting around and, were it not for Szczęsny, each of them might have tallied. The man just could not be beat on this day. Even after Jenkinson was sent off, Szczęsny and the back line held firm. There were a few scary moments, and Sunderland by rights should have had an equalizer but for some poor finishing, including one from Titus Bramble from inside the six.


Despite being short-handed, we continued to press forward, creating dangerous counter-attacks with only two or three men. Giroud's hold-up play was notable, as he repeatedly gathered long clearances and laid them off to Cazorla, Ramsey, and Walcott. Walcott was unlucky in the 75th minute, running onto a beautiful pass from Cazorla and chipping past Mignolet, only to see the shot hit the far post. An inch to the right would have seen that ball bounce in or back across the mouth for Walcott to tap in.


From there, Miquel came on for Walcott as Wenger looked for more defense. Sunderland took shots, earned corners and spot-kicks, but couldn't breach Szczęsny's line. In the waning seconds of the fourth minute of stoppage time, it was Mignolet himself who almost did it, running up to join one last corner. Szczęsny stopped his header during the scramble (right as the announcer was pointing that Mignolet has scored goals before), and time was called. 


Right, then. Three points, well-earned. Next up, we host Blackburn in the FA Cup's fifth round.