Arsenal 0 - 0 Sunderland: match report

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An Arsenal side that were not at their best today dropped two points at home to Sunderland, failing to capitalize on Manchester United's midweek loss to Chelsea.  A slow first half gave way to a more frantic second in which Arsenal forged more chances, but they could not find the back of the net today and on a couple of occasions were rescued by an alert Wojciech Szczesny.

The first half was a bit flat from both sides.  Ten minutes in, Nicklas Bendtner nearly got on the end of a good cross from Arshavin before Nasri cut inside and had an effort with his left foot saved by Simon Mignolet, who played well all match long.  Fifteen minutes later, Johan Djourou made an excellent play to keep Asamoah Gyan from breaking in on goal before Arshavin was denied by a fine last-ditch tackle courtesy of Titus Bramble at the other end.

Neither side were excerting continuous pressure; Sunderland were sitting deep and playing out through Gyan, while Arsenal were struggling to sustain passing in the midfield while probing for a chink in the armor.  Aresnal's best opportunity of the half came in the 35th minute when Samir Nasri dribbled through Sunderland's defense and got to the byline, but did not think to square the ball to Nicklas Bendtner for a simple tap-in.  Nasri looked good on the right on the day, but this was an opportunity spurned, as Arsenal's corner came to naught.

Nicklas Bendtner unleashed a fine effort from the right a few minutes later, but Mignolet came to the rescue again, tipping his laser just over the bar as halftime arrived.

The second half brought no immediate changes, and started as dully as the first had ended.  Johan Djourou took a shot to the eye and came off for a few minutes, but appeared to recover fully.  Jordan Henderson picked up a yellow card for a late tackle on Denilson, who became the first sub in the 61st minute, Marouane Chamakh coming on, Nasri moving to central midfield and Bendtner out to the right.

Jack Wilshere picked up a yellow for dissent, Steed Malbranque came off for Danny Welbeck, and Laurent Koscielny won a free kick on the edge of Sunderland's penalty area as Arsenal started to pile on the pressure in the 72nd minute.  Nasri delivered a wonderful free kick over the wall, but Mignolet was there to tip it over the bar.

The game was indeed stretching in both directions now.  Wilshere floated in a cross that Chamakh headed directly off the crossbar, Bacary Sagna shot over.  Tomas Rosicky came on for Abou Diaby, and Ahmed Elmohamady came on for Gyan.

Arsenal continued to press and got unlucky in the 80th minute.  Nasri made a lovely defense-splitting pass through to Arshavin, who ghosted past Bramble and formed up to shoot.  As he raised his leg, Bramble, in desperation, shoved him in the small of the back with both hands, putting the Russian off, his shot scooting wide.  The winger looked around for a penalty call, but nothing was given; goal kick to Sunderland, instead, the call.

Sunderland won a corner at the other end, Welbeck turning neatly and unleashing a fierce shot that Szczesny got down very well to tip wide.  He produced another good save from the resulting corner before Bramble shot well over the bar.

Nasri earned a yellow card for dissent, his frustration on display.  Sunderland won another corner, which Arsenal cleared, moving upfield in attack.  Nasri again found Arshavin running through the Black Cats' back line, the Russian taking the ball around Mignolet and burying it in the back of the net, only to see the offside flag raised.  It was a preposterously bad call, though, as Sunderland's right back was playing Arshavin onside by at least a foot.

Four minutes of stoppage time were not enough for Arsenal to find a goal, although Bendtner scuffed a header towards Mignolet with almost no power from a free kick.  Time ran out on Arsenal's chance to move within a point of the league leaders, and now they must travel to Spain and see about a draw or win at the Camp Nou.

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