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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Arsenal Stumble Against Sunderland: Luck, Dismissal, Injury, Dubious Decisions

Arsenal’s travel to the unwelcoming Stadium of Light must have been filled with hope, and yet, with determination to come home with all the three points. They must have known a difficult fight was ahead of them. What they probably did not know was that they would have to do it without their captain Cesc Fabregas for the bigger part of the game, and with a player less than the opposition.

First whistle blown, Lady Luck smiled on the Gunners.

After an attempted clearance by Anton Ferdinand, the ball bounced off the foot of Cesc Fabregas, travelled about 40 yards, and landed in the net behind Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet.

What a curious way to open the scoring, indeed. But what is strange about luck is that it comes and goes at the most unexpected moments.

Twenty minutes after the goal, Cesc signalled for a substitution. Tomas Rosicky came in to replace the captain who had received some type of injury in the deflection-caused goal.

The huge blow changed the game of the Gunners and they gave the initiative to their opponents.

Smelling blood, Sunderland immediately reacted and launched themselves forward like mad. Facing the oncoming pressure, the Gunners did not fold, managing to keep the defence organised and minimizing the mistakes to a minimum. Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia had to make some crucial interventions and he did his job without a flinch.

But the wheel had started turning.

Alex Song stole a ball from a Sunderland player in the midfield, but then referee Phil Dowd blew his whistle after the player went down. Song reacted angrily enough to spur Dowd into booking him.

Song’s reaction was partly justified by the replays which showed there was no contact between Song and the fouled player, but Dowd’s mind was in another dimension.

After the half-time talks, Arsenal came out a transformed team with one thing in mind: to finish the game off.

Ten minutes deep into the second half, Sunderland repelled another Gunner attack and started to organize a counter-attack. The already-booked Alex Song had little time to move out of the way of speeding Steed Malbranque and a foul was awarded. What was strange was that Phil Dowd decided the action of Song was worthy of being showed a second yellow card. Considering the easy first yellow card, many would find Dowd decision doubtful.

Arsenal was left to deal with hyper-active opposition with ten men until the end of the match. Sunderland mounted pressure, and on several occasions came very close to scoring.

The hostile atmosphere, though, turned out to be the perfect environment for the new figures in the Arsenal defence to show what they can do. Laurent Koscielny, Bakary Sagna, Manuel Almunia, and Sebastien Squillaci all battled well to protect the fragile lead of their team. Gael Clichy made a few mistakes, but nothing that could not be repaired by his well-performing team-mates.

With 20 minutes left, the referee was close enough to see Samir Nasri getting tripped inside the Sunderland box and awarded a penalty to Arsenal.

The weight of the task fell on the substituting captain’s shoulders—Tomas Rosicky. However, it was too much for him and he squandered the perfect opportunity to end the argument.

Stress continued to mount and all hell broke loose seconds after the decided injury time ran out. In a huge melee in the Arsenal end, the ball found its way to Darren Bent after shaky clearance by Gael Clichy, 1-1.

A point to each side.

Arsenal may regret missing the golden chances to finish the game off. That, along with some dubious decisions by the referee, leaves them one point behind league leaders Chelsea who have a game in hand.

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