1 - 0 Robin van Persie 1'
1 - 1 Sebastian Larsson 31'
2 - 1 Robin van Persie 83'
Arsenal defeated Sunderland today in a match that they dominated early, did the opposite of dominating in the middle, and then more or less dominated late again to take all three points at the Emirates. Robin van Persie cut open the Sunderland defense just 28 seconds into the match before Sebastian Larsson equalized with a brilliant free kick half an hour later. Van Persie put the hosts back ahead for good with a late free kick effort that was basically the mirror image of Larsson's, and Arsenal were able to see out the final 12 minutes for the win.
Arsenal started just about as well as a team can, as van Persie buried his first chance before Sunderland had touched the ball a single time. Gervinho was released over the top down the left, van Persie controlled his pass inside expertly, shifted the ball onto his right foot, and shot home easily from straight on, more or less. Sunderland's defenders didn't really do...anything. It was odd. From then on, it was one-way traffic for Arsenal for the first twenty minutes, but they failed to add to their first. van Persie certainly was trying, though, as in the 12th minute, he took a lovely, lovely turn, bore down on goal, and floated a gracefully tasty right-footed curler towards the far post that...floated...forever...and then hit the post, trickled along the line, and was cleared by Sunderland. Bummer.
It wouldn't be 2011 Arsenal without the inevitable mid-game mental collapse, though, and the early warning signs presented. Wojciech Szczesny ran way, way, out of his area trying to claim a ball over the top (reports that it was actually Almunia momentarily filing in have gone unconfirmed), Stephane Sessegnon rounded him and tried to find a teammate, but Arsenal were able to clear.
Sunderland then remembered who it was they were playing, started pressing, and it was mostly downhill from there for the rest of the half. 30 minutes in, Mikel Arteta handled the ball going for a header above Lee Cattermole, and former Arsenal man Larsson stepped up and curled in a 100% perfect fatality of a free kick just past Per Mertesacker's leaping face and into the top corner. 1-1, and Arsenal were falling through the floor into other parts of hell.
Luckily for Arsenal, Szczesny was about to make up for his earlier Uncle Junior moment. The defending broke down again for Arsenal, Koscielny playing Sessegnon onside, the unchallenged cross flashing in, Cattermole flying towards it. Szczesny, though, because he's brilliant, followed the flight of the ball across the area perfectly, and when the Sunderland captain headed the ball squarely and wheeled away in celebration, he must've been surprised to see the ball rolling past him after Szczesny had beaten his effort away.
[Ed. note: If I'm sounding a bit hyperbolic, here, it's because I need a nap.]
Halftime arrived with the score level, but Sunderland very much on the rise. As the teams emerged for the second half, though, Arsenal slowly started to reassert control as the match settled into a pretty steady midfield battle. Andre Santos came on for the apparently injured Kieran Gibbs; Andrei Arshavin replaced Gervinho. Around the 75th minute, Arsenal were fully dominating possession once again, Sunderland finally wearing down a bit and losing pressure. When Arsenal won a free kick from 25 yards out on the right, having already skied four previous efforts over the bar, nothing seemed to be on.
But it's Robin van Persie, and he never ceases to be awesome (even though he hardly scores from free kicks, despite his rep). If Larsson's was brilliant in the first half, then RvP's was almost as brilliant here, since it was basically the same thing, just from the other side (well, Larsson's was a bit more laser-y looking, granted). Unsavable, and Arsenal were back in front. Howard Webb added on five minutes stoppage time as Arsenal finally saw the light and settled possession down, and despite a couple of attacks in the dying moments which led to them ceding the ball to Sunderland, they held on and took all three points to escape, for the time being, from the nasty end of the Premier League.