Feb 9, 2013, 12:44 PM EDT
When Santi Cazorla put Arsenal up in the 36th minute at Sunderland, it looked like the beginning for an easy day for the Gunners. Their normally prolific passing game was accompanied by a precision the Gunners often lack, movement toward goal that hinted this many be a rare easy Arsenal road victory. The team went into halftime up one at the Stadium of Light, but it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors doubled their lead. There was little reason to think the match would end 1-0.
Yet that’s precisely what happened. Shortly after the hour mark, Arsenal were left to rue their near-misses and plunked uprights when they lost one of their defenders. Booked for the second time, right back Carl Jenkinson left his team to play with 10 for the last half hour, a disadvantage that caused the match to flip. In a game where Arsenal outshot their opponent 19-14, Sunderland posted eight shots to Arsenal’s four after the sending off. Unfortunately for the Black Cats, none of their shots had to be collected from Arsenal’s net.
Saving his team, goalkeeper Wojiech Szczesny gave Arsenal a man of the match-caliber performance, even if his numbers failed to capture his impact. His five saves where fewer than the seven recorded by Simon Mignolet, but late stops on chances that would have otherwise been goals (specifically, a late heard by Steven Fletcher) backboned a superficially strong defensive performance. Arsenal was able to keep a clean sheet, but even for a team reduced to 10 men, their defense was often too easily breeched by the Black Cats.
After their leery 30 minutes, Arsenal was left with more than just a fortunate victory, in so far as any prolonged survival with 10 men requires some fortunate. The win was an impressive one for a team that’s often criticized for lacking perseverance. On the road, down a man, and having lost one of their better players to injury (Jack Wilshire, whose injury seemed minor), Arsenal got a valuable result, one which keeps them within four points of a coveted Champions League spot.
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