Song dismissal costs Wenger’s out of tune Gunners

By Chris Weatherspoon

For the second game in succession at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland striker Darren Bent found himself celebrating the latest of late goals.

Whilst three weeks ago it was Manchester City who left Wearside empty handed, this time it was Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal who travelled home having been denied three points in the dying seconds of time added on.

Wenger, unsurprisingly, was apoplectic with how events unfolded. Bent’s strike rifled into Manuel Almunia’s net with the clock on 94 minutes and 11 seconds; the fourth official had indicated that four minutes of extra time should be played. Of course, this is just a minimum, the actual amount of time that may be played is determined at the referee’s discretion – but try telling Mr Wenger that.

Accompanied by his assistant Pat Rice, Arsenal’s French supremo was once again bemoaning his side’s luck, having earlier been dismayed by the red card shown to central midfielder Alex Song.

In truth though, neither Arsenal nor their manager could have any complaints about Saturday evening’s result. In a departure from the norm, the Gunners found themselves outplayed by their supposedly lesser opponents; one set of statistics saw Sunderland controlling 60% of first-half possession.

It seemed that Arsenal had expended most of their energies in midweek with their formidable 6-0 thrashing of Sporting Braga. From the off, Sunderland were more comfortable on the ball and looked more threatening when going forward, with both Nedum Onuoha and Cristian Riveros notable for their glaring misses in front of goal.

And if Arsenal’s performance was unlike that which observers are accustomed to, their goal was even more out of the ordinary.

Sunderland were in little danger when the ball was played back to centre-half Anton Ferdinand, however the former West Ham man was slow to play the ball out of defence, giving opposition captain Cesc Fàbregas time to close him down. What followed stunned both those in the stadium and the many that were watching at home on television; Ferdinand’s clearance rebounded off Fàbregas’ blocking leg, before ballooning 40 yards into the goal over the head of a despairing Simon Mignolet.

Undeterred by this freak incident, the home side continued their bright start, and were unfortunate to end the opening half without a goal of their own.

With regards to Song’s dismissal, Wenger would do well to watch a replay of the game before the sending off. The Cameroonian was frequently reprimanded by referee Phil Dowd in the first half, eventually receiving a yellow card for persistent fouling. Song then proceeded to bodycheck Steed Malbranque ten minutes after the interval, and Arsenal were left to hang on with ten men.

Paradoxically, that red card set in motion their best spell of play. Where previously they had been wasteful in possession, the ten men now passed and moved with the vigour that is expected of them, and were rewarded with a penalty when Samir Nasri was downed by Ahmed Elmohamady. The less said about Tomas Rosický’s subsequent punt over the bar, the better.

Sunderland introduced record signing Asamoah Gyan and pushed hard as the game worn on, but were unable to get past the imperious defensive pairing of Koscielny and Squillaci.

That is, of course, until Bent pounced with the final kick of the game. With the match edging into its fifth added minute, and the Arsenal bench screaming for the final whistle, Boudewijn Zenden pumped the ball high into the opposition box. Following a melee involving Gyan and ending with a poor attempted clearance by Gael Clichy, the unmarked Bent was on hand at the back post to save the Black Cats.

Perhaps in hindsight, despite the nature of it, a point here is a good result for the Gunners. The Stadium of Light is a tricky place to visit; Sunderland have lost here just once in 2010, and that was against Manchester United.

Arsenal now must regroup in time for Tuesday evening’s third round Carling Cup tie with arch rivals Tottenham, whilst Sunderland entertain West Ham in the same competition.

If the performances of Saturday evening are echoed in midweek, only one of these two sides will progress, and it won’t be Mr Wenger’s men.


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