Sunderland 1-1 Arsenal: No-one to blame but ourselves

I know this morning there’ll be a lot of folk still unhappy that the goal came in the 15th second of the 5th minute of injury time despite on 4 being signalled. There’ll be folks unhappy at Phil Dowd for the sending off of Alex Song.

Pfff, I’m afraid we’re going to to just have to live with stuff like that because it happens in almost every game to almost every team. The whistle rarely goes the very second the allocated injury time has been completed and players on yellow cards should know better than to make silly fouls.

The finger pointing and the blame of the officials is a bit of a smokescreen because that’s a game we should have had won. The time added on should have been irrelevant but Rosicky’s penalty was poor, very poor, and we paid a heavy price for that.

It wasn’t one of those days when we produced a scintillating performance, we really struggled in the first half. Perhaps some heavy legs from the Champions League, Sunderland looked a bit fresher, a bit more energetic. It was an unchanged team as well, which wasn’t that much of a surprise. We took the lead on 13 minutes with an outrageous piece of good fortune. Cesc closed down Anton Ferdinand, blocked the attempted hoof up field and the ball rebounded high, straight over the keeper and in. A total fluke.

Sunderland had some half-chances and looked occasionally threatening from set-pieces. We weren’t helped when we lost Cesc to a hamstring – his removal described as ‘precautionary’ – and in general we struggled to get going.

The second was better though, we looked more like ourselves, and then came the red card. Song had been booked in the first half, a bit soft you might say, but he’d committed a number of fouls and was very lucky not to get booked about two minutes earlier when he blatantly tripped Malbranque. When the ref gave a foul against him for what looked like a nothing challenge on Henderson the sensible thing to do, when you’re skirting with a booking, is say nothing and walk away. It was near the halfway line, hardly dangerous. Instead Song threw his hands up in exasperation and I’m pretty sure he got the booking for that.

So when you’re on a yellow the last thing you should do is give the ref any excuse to give you another. The second half was 10 minutes old when he clearly obstructed Malbranque after the Frenchman had nutmegged him. Soft, yes, but you can’t really have any complaints about the card being shown. Where I think we have a right to complain is that a few minutes later Bramble absolutely scythed down Jack Wilshere on the edge of the box and Dowd didn’t see that as worthy of a yellow card. That old consistency thing again but having played most of our games this season against 10 men it seems churlish to moan when it happens to us – especially when a modicum of common sense from Song would have stopped it happening.

Look at Jack Wilshere. He had a fraught first half, I thought. He got an early booking, lost possession a few times, and knew if he made one more bad tackle he’d be off. Instead he had a disciplined second half performance which will probably go overlooked in the disappointment of the result. When a change had to be made it was the ineffective Arshavin who came off, the 18 year old stayed on, played very well and never came close to walking the line Song trampled all over.

Down to 10 I thought we played really well. Rosicky and Nasri were busy in midfield, keeping the ball beautifully and we were threatening at times. When Nasri was tripped in the box that should have been game over. Instead Rosicky fired the penalty over the bar. It was a bad miss from an experienced player who should have been more than capable of scoring the goal which would have won us the match.

And then the equaliser. We got a huge slice of luck for our goal, Sunderland too had some good fortune for theirs. A corner was cleared, it came to Zenden who curled it back in, there seemed to be a handball by a Sunderland player as Squillaci tried to hook it clear, it bobbled around, Clichy’s attemped clearance was poor – although there’s more than a hint of a foul on him – it hit Koscielny and fell nicely for Darren Bent to slam it home.

Gutting but almost inevitable after the penalty miss. Arsene and Pat Rice went mad that the goal had come beyond the allocated 4 minutes but the 4 minutes are a minimum. There’s some suggestion that the boss pushed the 4th official but I haven’t seen it. I hope that’s not the case because he’s in trouble if he did.

Yet, in all the finger pointing and blaming the officials, the real disappointment comes because we all know we should have won that game. Penalties are missed, I know, it happens, but these are moments which can come back to haunt you as the season goes on. Instead of maintaining the 2 point gap to Chelsea we’re going to find ourselves 4 points behind them when they beat Blackpool today. It makes the trip to Stamford Bridge even more important.

Still, I thought there was stuff to be positive about even if we didn’t play that well. Wilshere, as I already said, had a great second half under the circumstances and the two centre-halves really didn’t deserve that equaliser. Both Squillaci and Koscielny were very impressive and seem to have built up a good understanding already. Generally the younger man attacked the ball higher up the pitch, allowing Squillaci to sit and mop up if required. That they both had an unwitting part to play in Sunderland’s goal makes it all the more painful.

On the not so positive side I’ve got to say Gael Clichy worries me. The vast majority of what he does is great, he competes, nicks the ball well on the interception, gets forward well even if there’s not much end product, but he just continues to have these moments where he switches off. At one stage yesterday he was dispossessed in his own box and it could have been very costly. These little things happen in almost every game. I do wonder if it’s time to really give Gibbs a go.

And while I think we all know Arshavin is capable of the old ‘something from nothing’ he was right back in the nothing from nothing mode yesterday. I’m not sure he’s the kind of player we can rely on away from home when hard work is needed. If there’s a game to be saved, bring him on. If there’s a game won and there’s no pressure, bring him on. Unless he seriously increases his workrate we have to consider whether he’s worth a place in the team.

All that aside I don’t feel too miserable about yesterday from our point of view. Hopefully lessons will be learned by those who need to learn them and the result is an improvement on last season – and the season before it was us who scored the injury time winner, remember. Hopefully Cesc’s injury isn’t too serious because we need him for Chelsea. More on that in the week, I’m sure.

Arsene’s post-game comments.

Some other Sunday reading – Marouane Chamakh, who says he’d happily play in the week against Sp*rs in the Carling Cup, talks about his move to Arsenal in the Mail.

And just to brighten up your Sunday, here’s Ryan Shawcross getting smacked in the back of the head with a Rob Green clearance (via @wmobri)

And that’s yer lot. Have a good Sunday. I’m playing 5s for the first time in weeks, I’m hoping Vermaelen’s achilles complaint heals much faster than mine has. If it has.

Till tomorrow.

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