Well, that sure was a thing! Arsenal came out of the gates like their shorts were on fire, and played an absolutely amazing first 10 minutes or so. They passed like water flowing down a stream, they held their shape, they kept possession, and they looked imperious. Then, they realized that they were Arsenal and settled down a bit; Carl Jenkinson picked up a yellow in the 9th minute, and the Arsenal we knew were back in business, moments of brilliance interspersed with moments of facepalming, sigh-inducing WTF-ness. Overall, though, this Arsenal are fun to watch, because those moments are fewer and further between than they have been recently.
In the 35th minute, Santi Cazorla was on the end of some wonderful work by the Arsenal midfield; he collected the ball just inside the penalty area, and the next thing I know the ball's in the back of the net and there's all sorts of jumping around, shouting to the heavens, and hugging and high-fiving. It was a beautiful goal, and the kind of goal I'd like to see more often.
This was one of those games where it was a shame that half time arrived; Arsenal were playing really well in the first half overall, despite the aforementioned moments of WTF, and it's too bad that it was orange slice time because Arsenal definitely had the bit between their teeth.
Then the second half started, and not long after the half Wilshere got kicked and had to be subbed off, limping his way to the sidelines. Cue a collective panic. YOU MESS WITH WILSHERE YOU MESS WITH US, DAMMIT. Diaby came in for Jack, though, and did serviceably well. That incident seemed to unhinge Arsenal a bit; they were still playing OK but seemed like they lacked just a little of the fluency that was there in the first half.
Speaking of losing fluency, Carl Jenkinson picked up a second yellow in the 68th minute; Arsenal would have to finish the game a man down, and it was at that moment I saw the whole thing unravel in my mind's eye. Fortunately, Arsenal are better at soccer than my brain is; they tightened up, and while Sunderland definitely poured everything they have at 10-man Arsenal, everything Sunderland has is not all that extensive, and despite a few nervy moments right at the end - and thanks in no small part to the much maligned for some dumb reason Wojiech Szczesny - Arsenal held on to get all three points. They could have made it easier on themselves - both Cazorla and Giroud had good chances in the dying moments of regular time, and overall Arsenal's finishing wasn't the best - but it's a win nonetheless.
In the end, not quite a vintage Arsenal performance, but I will take it. Despite injuries, red cards, dire finishing, and Sunderland, Arsenal emerge from Wearside with three vital points, and now sit in fifth place, four points out of the last Champions League place. This is the kind of game Arsenal would have lost in November, so I'm pretty happy right now.
Hey there, team in fourth place. As a wise man once said - don't look back, something might be gaining on you.