Arsenal went to Sunderland yesterday afternoon looking to continue their recent good run in the league. They had taken seven points from the last nine after three home games in a row. With Spurs winning the early game Arsenal had to win to keep the gap to fourth place at four points.
With Thomas Vermaelen injured Laurent Koscielny was chosen to play at centre back, but he picked up an injury in the warm up. It meant Carl Jenkinson came in at right back with Bacary Sagna switching into the centre of defence. Sagna hadn't played well for a while and it looked like a risk to play him in the centre.
From the off Arsenal were all over Sunderland as they overran them in midfield. Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazirla ran the midfield and Sunderland didn't get a look in. Cazorla was supposedly in the wide left time with Lukas Podolski on the bench, but he popped up all over the pitch.
Arsenal spurned good chances through both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud with Simon Mignolet performing very well on goal for Sunderland. Despite all of their domination it took Arsenal 35 minutes to score and they only managed one goal in the first half. Wilshere ran at the Sunderland defence and laid the ball off to Walcott who passed to Cazorla to strike a sweet first time shot home from 20 meters.
There were other chances before the break as Arsenal were completely dominant, but it ended 1-0 at half time. Sunderland had put the boot in on every occasion possible in the first half and the referee had been quite lenient with them. After the break they tried to get in Arsenal's faces a lot more and those bad challenges piled up. Not long into the second half Arsenal lost Wilshere when he was taken down and immediately signaled to the bench that his game was over.
Abou Diaby replaced Wilshere for the last 40 minutes of the game and it let Sunderland back into the game. They did bypass the midfield a lot more in that second half as they looked to put Arsenal under pressure with a much more direct game. They crossed and pumped the ball into the Arsenal penalty area at every opportunity.
They were helped by Jenkinson receiving his marching orders soon after Wilshere went off. He had been booked in the first half for a rash challenge and had got away with another couple of fouls after that. When he upended Stephanne Sessegnon outside the Arsenal box the referee had no real choice and had to issue a second yellow.
Sunderland saw their chance and threw the kitchen sink at Arsenal for the rest of the game. There were some real heroics in the Arsenal defence with Sagna, Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Giroud winning header after header. When he was called upon Wojciech Szczesny was not found wanting with some outstanding saves.
All the while Arsenal were creating chances on the break, but they just couldn't take any of them. Walcott hot the post with the best of them and both Giroud and Cazorla could have done better at times too. It made for a thrilling game and thankfully Arsenal came away with all three points.
I was delighted to see Sagna have a great game at the heart of the defence as he got stuck in to the task at hand. With no onus on him to join in with the attack he concentrated on his defending and liked like the defender we all know he can be. He was ably assisted by those around him in an Arsenal defence that can only be bettered by Swansea in terms of how few goals they have conceded away from home.
I have to give a special mention to Aaron Ramsey too who had a very good game in midfield and then did his very best at right back when Jenkinson was sent off. He has taken a lot of stick at times for his performances but he deserves credit for how he has played in recent weeks. Maybe he has finally put the trauma of his horrific leg break behind him and he will fulfil all of his early promise.
I thought that yesterday's game was one which Arsenal would have dropped points in all too often in recent seasons. They showed some real resilience to hold on to their lead under a barrage from Sunderland. They may have rode their luck at times but so did Sunderland and Arsenal deserved their victory in my opinion.
Hopefully the injury to Wilshere is nothing serious and both Koscielny and Vermaelen will be back soon too. I have no doubt some players will be rested for the FA Cup game with Blackburn next week, but every single player will be needed for the challenges after that game.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.