Patrick Wiseman reports on the match at the Stadium of light:
Sunderland: Mannone, Yedlin, van Aanholt, Kaboul, Kone, Kirchhoff, M’Vila, Cattermole, Borini, Khazri, Defoe.
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny, Ramsey, Iwobi, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud.
Sunderland played host to Arsenal at the Stadium of Light, it being an important game for both sides. I use the phrase ‘important for both sides’ loosely however, as it meant far more to Sunderland than Arsenal. A season that promised so much has petered out at a shocking rate, leaving Arsenal battling yet again for the top four. I thought we’d got past that stage a few years ago. Thus securing Wenger’s position as Kroenke’s money-maker and dictator-in-chief. For Sunderland, however, this was as important a game as any this season. They are in their annual relegation dogfight and need to get results from every single one of their remaining games to stay in the division.
The good news from the Arsenal team sheet was that Jack Wilshere was on the bench after getting injured pre-season. The bad news was that Ramsey and Giroud started. How the hell those two started was a mystery. Ramsey has been diabolical for god knows how long, a good few seasons at least, and I can’t even remember the last time Giroud scored.
Arsenal started well, dominating the opening fifteen minutes. Alex Iwobi fired the first shot, beating all Sunderland players and it flashed just past the post with Mannone well and truly beaten. He was then to be tested again shortly afterwards, managing to save when Mertesacker’s powerful header connected with Ozil’s corner.
That’s when the momentum shifted.
Wahbi Khazri robbed a pathetic Aaron Ramsey and shot from 20 yards deflect narrowly wide off Mertesacker. Arsenal cleared the resulting corner, but only as far as Cattermole, who shot at goal, the ball flying past Cech.
On 22 minutes another Sunderland chance, as Van Aanholt struck a brilliant free kick, and was very unlucky to see his strike hit the top-right corner off the goal and bounce off with Cech well beaten.
Mannone had a brilliant game and yet again he reacted quickly to smother Ozil’s deflected shot on 30 minutes. Arsenal were awarded a free kick after a dive by Mohamed Elneny – why dive? What’s the point? – and it was justice served that Alexis’ brilliant free-kick beat the wall only for Mannone to dive to his post and punch clear. Iwobi’s follow-up was saved on the line by Deandre Yedlin.
Sunderland were again saved by Yedlin as Ozil’s corner bounced around the 6-yard box. Sanchez headed on goal and Yedlin once again diverted the ball clear.
Penalty appeals for both sides followed. First, Defoe’s shot hit the arm of Mertesacker, and then Yedlin blocked Iwobi’s strike with his hand. Mike Dean was uninterested in both, waving them away, and video evidence suggested he was right to do so.
That was all the action from the first half and the teams went in with the score 0-0 at the break, owing much to bad finishing as good goalkeeping from both sides.
Sunderland came out after the break firing on all cylinders, and Cech was the only reason why Sunderland didn’t take the lead. He first repelled a stinging Defoe volley, and managed to scramble to his feet to beat away M’Vila’s follow-up shot. Khazri then shot at the bottom corner from 20 yards but Cech leapt low and parried it to safety. Cech was then beaten on 64 minutes as Defoe lobbed above Cech only for the ball to bounce wide off the post.
Wenger reshuffled – once again too little too late – bringing on Walcott and Welbeck. Walcott had yet another poor game. Welbeck, however, managed to contribute something significant, striking the ball from 20 yards only for Mannone to once again block the shot.
Wenger then reintroduced Wilshere after 11 months out with a broken leg. This rallied the squad, but they were unable to find a winner, as Mannone palmed away Alexis’ shot on 87 minutes.
The score ended 0-0, an insipid display by the Gunners in which they were in truth lucky to claim a point. Sunderland, however gained an invaluable point in their relegation dogfight and will feel aggrieved that they didn’t come away with all three points.
Sam Allardyce’s comments that Arsenal fans should lay off our manager will fall on deaf ears, and rightly so. It is indifferent performances such as this, as well as the fact that it’s the same old story with Arsenal – sign a new player, wave of optimism, come crashing down and call for Wenger’s head – every season. Add that to the fact that every season in the champions league seems to be a masterclass in humiliation, and the fact that teams have long since found us out and adapted their teams to play against us, whereas Wenger persists with the same old system in the blind hope that it will pay off. Fans are increasingly beginning to realise this, and the anti-Wenger hostility grows with every passing season.
Next week Arsenal will either blow Norwich away or bottle it as per. Frankly though, I don’t care which, I’m beyond caring about this season, and I like many Gooners just want this sorry season to end.
Follow Patrick on Twitter – @WisepPatrick