Arsenal dominated possession but failed to break down a disciplined and focused Sunderland, who stifled the Gunners attacking prowess by forcing them wide.
Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland
If only the Arsenal team on show were as deceptive as their manager. First Eduardo was handed a surprise start against Cardiff in midweek and even after claiming Andrei Arshavin was a week away from full fitness in the pre-match conference, Arsene Wenger gave the Russian his first start.
Standing next to Nicklas Bendtner as the teams lined up one may have been forgiven for thinking Arshavin was the Dane’s child mascot. However making his first competitive start since November, the diminutive Russian was Arsenal’s brightest spark and with a few more minutes under his belt promises to be a deadly asset. The first few minutes saw him acclimatise to the speed of the match and the responsibility to track back but once he had his first chance the confidence came rushing back. A shot from outside the area went agonisingly wide before he had another opportunity with his left foot after teasing McCartney.
Arshavin drifted in the centre at times and with the areas he vacated allowed interchangeability with the forward players but as fatigue kicked in and the goal eluding Arsenal, gave up such a notion.
In fact Arsenal had some great chances in the first half; first Van Persie chipped wide after a brilliant Denilson through ball, Gallas header cleared off the line and a Bendtner header tipped wide by Fulop but with every passing miss, Arsenal’s chance to win did so too. Sunderland too had their opportunities in the first half but which were mainly on the counter. With a five man midfield they outnumbered the Gunners in the centre early on but were never set up to compete rather looking to frustrate.
The Black Cat’s defended in a deep compact block and forced Arsenal away from the goal to wide areas. When the ball was crossed into the box, made sure they had enough men to deal with it (see below). Their only invention was to counter the Gunners in the channels out wide which the full backs would inevitably have vacated. As much as the Gunners should have won considering the clubs’ ambitions, Sunderland’s ultra defensive tactics would have made it hard for any team to score past. In the end Arsenal lacked variety and dynamism to break down the Sunderland defence, though Carlos Vela should have scored with at least one of his two opportunities towards the end of the second half.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy (Gibbs 85), Nasri, Denilson, Song Billong (Eboue 78), Arshavin (Vela 63), Bendtner, Van Persie.
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Ramsey, Djourou, Merida.
Booked: Nasri, Clichy.
Sunderland: Fulop, Ben-Haim, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Malbranque, Whitehead, Tainio (Leadbitter 76), Reid (Murphy 78), Richardson, Jones (Edwards 88).
Subs Not Used: Gordon, Davenport, Healy, McShane.
Booked: Richardson, McCartney.
Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).
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