Thierry Henry was the hero once again as he popped up with an injury time winner to earn Arsenal an excellent win at resurgent Sunderland.
The late drama and elation was in complete contrast to the painfully slow, boring spectacle that was the first half. Sunderland had all eleven men behind the ball at times as they tried to frustrate the visitors. They succeeded. Arsenal had most of the possession but lacked the guile to break down O’Neill’s well organised defence.
The second half began with a renewed effort from Arsenal but they still hadn’t created one decent chance by the hour mark. At this point Sunderland had a spell of pressure and Szczesny had to be alert to palm away two low drives from Craig Gardner.
On 70 minutes a goalless draw seemed likely, but then Mertesacker did an uncanny impression of a baby giraffe learning to walk when he stumbled on the uneven pitch and gifted possession to McLean. The Irish youngster ruthlessly lashed the ball past Szcesny and the hosts had the most fortuitous of leads.
At this point I fully expected the game to peter out. Mignolet in the Sunderland goal had seen less action than the local ice cream van and I wasn’t putting a lot of faith in our much vaunted but seldom seen mental strength.
But within minutes we were level. The home side once more held the edge of their area and challenged Arteta to find a way through. He looked reluctant to try and thread yet another pass towards the outnumbered van Persie and, almost in desperation, tried a long range shot. The ball cannoned off a red and white shirt into the path of Ramsey who hit a low drive into the net via both posts.
Thanks for everything you legend
We piled forward looking for the winner as Sunderland tired, their 120 minutes in midweek finally catching up with them. Arshavin came on for the ineffective Walcott and did more in his few minutes than Theo had done all match. The Russian crossed for van Persie to head straight at Mignolet and our last chance seemed to have gone.
But Arshavin had another good cross up his sleeve and in injury time delivered it perfectly for fellow sub Henry to nudge home the winner. What a way for the main man to underline his legendary status.
Most reports were sympathetic that poor old Sunderland had been robbed of a point they deserved for all their hard work, but I’m not having that. For a side just below us and in such good form they showed a remarkable lack of ambition on their own patch and got what they deserved — nothing.
On the other hand we showed good character to recover from an incredible piece of bad luck and take all three points despite not being at our fluent best and were the rightful victors. It is concerning that we only created three decent chances in the whole match but at this stage of the season the result is far more important.
Credit must go to Wenger for making the right substitutions at the right time, even though they were obvious ones almost all Gooners would’ve made. Ramsey, Arshavin and Henry were ultimately the match winners and I’m pleased for Aaron — I hope people get off his back now, he’s still a young man learning his trade who’s been asked to play far too many games in the absence of a proper replacement for Fabregas.
Someone who isn’t still learning is the frustratingly inconsistent Walcott. While Ramsey has made 90 appearances for Arsenal, Theo is now on 206 and the time has come for people to stop bleating on about him being a youngster. He has had enough playing time to develop and should be one of our top players producing week in, week out. He’s certainly demanding a new contract worthy of such a player and needs to show it on the pitch. It says something that after just 13 appearances Oxlade-Chamberlain looks by far the better player.
It was Henry who rightfully hogged the headlines for his late winner and three goals in six substitute appearances is impressive. That’s twice he’s turned draws into wins from the bench but the question must now be asked — who will do that once he’s gone? Chamakh? Park? I hate to be negative after a terrific result but we will miss his quality and I fear a lack of decent strikers may eventually cost us.
So we secured all three points on a day when Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle all lost meaning we climbed to fourth on goals scored. Chelsea are in free fall and we must be grateful that Andre Villas Boas shares most of Mourinho’s shortcomings and few of his qualities. Their decline gives us an unexpected second chance at Champions League football next season and we must take it.
I think fourth place will be ‘won’ with a relatively low points total as all the contenders are showing remarkable frailties and this gives me hope it could be us. Despite our many worrying flaws we look better than our rivals right now and have some momentum, so let’s hope we can carry that through and finish the season stronger than we started it.
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