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Arsenal traveled to the Stadium of Light in Sunderland today to take on a solid Black Cats side on a tricky away pitch, and for 69 minutes, it was pretty dour. A horrible non-contact injury to Per Mertesacker allowed James McClean in on goal, and he made no mistake. Things looked bleak for the Gunners, who really needed consistency, but substitutes Aaron Ramsey, Andrei Arshavin, and Thierry Henry pulled the game back from the brink to give Arsenal all three points and move the club into fourth place, at least for a couple of hours.
Follow us after the jump for a recap of all the action:
Bacary Sagna was the one change for Arsenal from the lineup that came out against Blackburn, replacing Francis Coquelin at right back. The Gunners, as is their wont lately, would enjoy the bigger portion of possession in the early stages, winning a couple of corners. The game started to even out on eight or nine minutes, Sunderland pressing very well and tracking back. Whether the Black Cats would be able to keep that up for the full 90 after their extra-time match on Wednesday would remain to be seen.
James McClean headed over harmlessly from a Sunderland corner on 12 minutes. They nearly sliced open Aresnal's defense, despite Laurent Koscielny's best efforts, and won another corner on 15 minutes. Arsenal defended that one before Wojciech Szczesny cleared desperately. Arsenal won a free kick and Kieran Richardson a yellow card for a challenge on Sagna, which led to some promising pressure for the Gunners. There was no end product, though.
Sunderland won a free kick on 23 minutes, Arsenal cleared, and a vicious counterattack resulted from it, Robin van Persie leading the charge. He found Theo Walcott, but the wing's cross at the end of it all found nobody. Arsenal kept the pressure on, but Sunderland formed up well, and no shot was forthcoming despite loads of pressure for the next two minutes.
29 minutes on, Arsenal were still looking for a way through. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tried to move up the left, but Sebastian Larsson had been doing excellent work tracking back and making life hard for the young midfielder. Sunderland were defending deep and very well, Arsenal not able to find a way through the packed defenders. 33 minutes on, a really good move was building, but Tomas Rosicky elected to try a return pass to the wing rather than driving on towards the goal, and his frustration at himself showed.
The match was sort of fizzling out, but there were some incidents 39 minutes in to liven things up again. Per Mertesacker slipped in his own area and appeared to handle, but the referee adjudged it as accidental. Bacary Sagna, in the aftermath, tackled Stephane Sessegnon, who went over, but the referee was not interested in a penalty then either.
Arsenal won a free kick 44 minutes in, Frazier Campbell hip-checking van Persie off the ball 20 yards out and earning a yellow for his trouble afterwards. Mikel Arteta's free kick was well-blocked by the wall, though. In injury time, Sunderland won a corner, and as the half drew to a close, Larsson lofted it in, but Arsenal cleared or halftime.
Arsenal opened the second half with much more of the ball, but Sunderland still were stalwart. Bacary Sagna made a bad pass at the back which allowed Sunderland to intercept and break, and they won a free kick from 30 yards. Seb Larsson, of course, looked to take, but instead it was Craig Gardner, who tried a low shot under the wall, which John O' Shea latched on to and put well over the bar.
Arsenal looked to break 55 minutes in, but Alex Song's pass through on the right was wayward in the end. 57 minutes in, Arsenal strung together a really good spell of possession and pressure, but they could not manage a final ball.
Sunderland started to find their feet 60 minutes in, winning a succession of corners. Arsenal worked to clear them, and Craig Gardner nearly found a goal from 25, but Wojciech Szczesny made a terrific diving save to his right on the laser.
Thierry Henry came on 66 minutes in for Chamberlain, the youngster having been marked really well out of the match by Phil Bardsley. It was a risky move on Wenger's part, Henry tending to cut in and not offer the same kind of wing play that Chamberlain does. There were 23 minutes.
It was about to get bad. Per Mertesacker was tracking a harmless ball back, and his leg went. He collapsed, McClean pounced, took two touches, and buried a far post shot past Szczesny.
1-0, out of absolutely nothing, and to make matters worse, Mertesacker had to be stretchered off. Aaron Ramsey would replace him, time to go all out.
18 minutes left.
Things would pick up.
Thierry Henry picked up the ball and strode forward as Arsenal looked to build an attack 75 minutes on. Arteta's initial long shot was blocked, but it fell to Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh captain let fly from 20 yards, his shot hitting both posts before spinning over the line as Simon Mignolet could only watch. 1-1, and Arsenal very much in it again.
Thomas Vermaelen tackled Campbell in a very dangerous position just outside the area on the right and earned a yellow. Sunderland would have a free kick on 78 minutes from a scary, scary place. John O'Shea whiffed, though, as the deflection fell to him, and eventually the ball went out for a goal kick.
The game was alive. Arsenal probed away again to no avail, 60% of the possession to their name. Ramsey's long shot aside, no ideas were on the table for Arsenal, and Sunderland continued their staunch defense.
86 minutes on, Andrei Arshavin replaced Walcott, and Ji Dong-Won replaced Campbell. Arshavin got a good cross in on 89 minutes which van Persie headed on target, but Mignolet was there to catch no problem. At the other end, Ji evaded Koscielny, handled, no call, and then his shot went wide.
There were to be four extra minutes.
It would help. Andrei Arshavin found space on the left, and with his right foot, launched in a delicious cross. Thierry Henry popped up through the Sunderland back four and steered it home with his right foot.
2-1 to the Arsenal. Two minutes left to hold on, and one knew that Sunderland were going to come full force. Arsenal tried to clear, and eventually did, all the way back to Mignolet, who flighted it long. Ramsey collected, though, and Henry brought it up and won the throw. Job almost done...
Job done. Everton beat Chelsea 2-0 at Goodison, and Arsenal were suddenly in fourth. Hopefully Per Mertesacker is okay.
Roll on the Champions League.