Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 1: Darren Bent strikes with last push as Arsene Wenger clashes with official


By Rob Draper, Mail on Sunday Chief Football Writer

On target: Bent scored in injury time to prevent the Gunners from moving to the top of the Premier League table

The ability of London teams to win the Premier League is usually measured directly by their aptitude to withstand formidable challenges in the far north.

For all of 94 minutes on Saturday evening at the Stadium of Light, Arsenal had passed that test and appeared to have proven their mettle as genuine title contenders.

Against a thoroughly committed Sunderland team, Arsene Wenger's side endured the loss of captain Cesc Fabregas to injury, the sending-off of their midfield enforcer, Alex Song, and a missed penalty from Tomas Rosicky.

In the past, any one of those setbacks might have seen this fragile side disintegrate and yet, this current team stood firm. Stood firm, that is, until all but those dying seconds.

Debate will now rage over exactly how many of them were legitimately added, the officials having indicated four minutes of added time.

Yet those four minutes were up and there had been no delays to merit prolonging the match when Sunderland launched their last, desperate, assault on goal, a long ball which sailed into Arsenal's box.

Back of the net: Fabregas is congratulated by his team-mates after his fortunate goal at the Stadium of Light

Steady thus far, Arsenal faltered as Laurent Koscielny and Gael Clichy failed to clear. The ball dropped for Darren Bent, who smashed the ball into the net to induce a frenzy of celebration.

As an incandescent Wenger confronted fourth official Martin Atkinson, Steve Bruce bounced up and down with clenched fists raised in the air. In victory, Bruce, whose relationship with Wenger is cool at best, was gracious.

'It's never easy to take when you concede in the last 10 seconds and I know how he feels,' he said. 'It has happened to us eight times since I've been here.'

And Bruce was correct when he added: 'I think our first-half performances warranted the draw. Sometimes against Arsenal it can be backs to the wall and you nick a goal, but I don't think that was the case.'

Indeed not. Sunderland had the best of the opening exchanges and fell behind to a bizarre goal on 14 minutes.

Luck of the draw: Fabregas closes down Ferdinand's clearance to score

As Anton Ferdinand collected a tame pass back some 40 yards from goal, the irrepressible Fabregas closed him down and stuck out a leg to divert the defender's clearance goalwards.

The ball looped upwards, its arc ever bending towards Sunderland's goal, and slowly the awful realisation dawned on the aghast Ferdinand and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet that the ball's trajectory was carrying it into the net.

'You're expecting wonder goals and then they score one like that!' said Bruce. 'I haven't seen anything like it since my school days.'

It was, though, to prove Fabregas's last significant contribution, his troublesome hamstring necessitating his withdrawal soon after.

Out of tune: Arsenal played the majority of the second-half with ten men after Song was sent off for a second bookable offence

Sunderland rallied after the setback. Bent was working tirelessly to stretch Arsenal's back four, while the excellent Ahmed Elmohamady was a constant worry for Clichy.

And in a week in which Wenger claimed his side bore the brunt of dangerous challenges, it was Jack Wilshere and Song who picked up deserved bookings for robust tackles.

Wenger, though, may view that as a positive development. 'We can be very pleased,' he said, of his side's commitment. 'We can battle, we can play and we had all the ingredients of a good team.'

Come the second half, Arsenal were resurgent. Andrey Arshavin missed two early chances before combining delightfully with Samir Nasri to play in Marouane Chamakh, whose shot was blocked by Mignolet.

Within minutes of that chance, though, the nature of the game changed. Song, whose tackling had merited a yellow card in the first half for a foul on Jordan Henderson, stood his ground as Steed Malbranque ran at him on 55 minutes.

The block was seemingly innocuous but referee Phil Dowd ruled otherwise, reaching for a second yellow card and sending Song off.

On came Denilson to shore up Arsenal; on came new signing Asamoah Gyan to fire up Sunderland.

The stage was set for an almighty test of the visitors' fortitude, but after Bent shot wastefully over on 58 minutes and Clichy headed off the line on 66 minutes, Arsenal withstood the challenge well.

And when Elmohamady needlessly brought down Nasri on the edge of the box on 74 minutes, stand-in captain Rosicky stepped up to take the resulting penalty. His effort, though, soared embarrassingly over the bar.

As Wenger would lament: 'We had chances to kill the game and we didn't do it.' Indeed, and it would make the thrilling denouement all the more painful to bear.

Czech mate: Rosicky failed to convert a second-half penalty after blazing his attempt over the bar

source: dailymail

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