Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland: A Tale of Two Heroes

When you're not playing well as a team and are struggling to find form, oftentimes the only way you're going to get a result is if your best players perform better than the other lot's best. Today, Arsenal got twin Man of the Match performances from Robin van Persie and Wojciech Szczesny to ensure a vital three points.

Normally, when I come in 10 minutes late because of trains or laziness or whatever, I end up missing very little. Today, I could have knocked off the second digit of that number and I still would have missed the first goal. Tomas Rosicky started the move, finding Gervinho with a pass. The Sunderland defense gave him too much time and room, and he was able to play a simple ball across to van Persie, who made no mistake. I wish I had been there to see it, but did at least see a replay at halftime. Just 27 seconds in, it was 1-0 to the Arsenal.

But, things never can be easy, can they? It also is worth bearing in mind that Sunderland are under quite a bit of pressure themselves, and they had to fancy their chances of getting back in the game due to our recent defensive record. It was never going to be a cakewalk from here.

Still, van Persie also had a gorgeous chip just miss off the outside of the post (according to the Guardian, anyway...I still hadn't made it in yet). A shame, that...another goal so soon and perhaps we may have had the aforementioned cakewalk after all.

Unfortunately, Arsenal largely reverted back to form with the casualness of their attack, despite the massive possession advantage we enjoyed. There were a few instances in which Sunderland were there to be carved open, but the final ball was found wanting. It almost cost us in the 27th minute when they in turn could not take advantage of a moment of madness from Szczesny. Stephane Sessegnon broke the Arsenal offside trap and broke down the left-hand side. The young Pole came haring out of his goal box and was a good 5 yards outside when Sessegnon got around him. Thankfully, we had enough bodies back where he didn't have a clear sight of goal, and Alex Song was able to clear the danger.

Fuck me, that had my heart in my throat for a moment there. I love you Wojceich, but don't ever do that again.

You got the sense the goal was coming though, and sure enough, Sunderland were level four minutes later. An innocuous high ball was handled just outside the area by Mikel Arteta, giving the Black Cats a free kick in Sebastien Larsson territory. It was all so bloody predictable, wasn't it? Larsson, to his credit, hit an absolutely gorgeous shot that made it over the head of the jumping Per Mertesacker (no small feat), but still was able to dip it down underneath the crossbar, just inside the post. Poor Szczesny had a snowball's chance of getting there, and you could feel the mood deflate at the Emirates as well as on 14th Street.

So, 1-1 then and a response was needed. A response was indeed produced, but not from the home side. Sunderland turned it on, smelling blood with the Gunners in disarray once again. In the 34th minute, the visitors would have been a goal to the good in just about any case. A horrible error by Carl Jenkinson gave Sessegnon the run of the left side again, and his back-post cross was inch-perfect. Lee Cattermole beat Mertesacker for pace, and had as open a header as you'll ever see at any level, let alone the professional game.

Honestly? If that went in, I am beyond sure that we would have gone on to lose the game. To concede there would have been a real sickener, and further, to lose to reeling Sunderland at home for our 5th loss before November...well, it just doesn't bear thinking about.

They didn't score though, did they? Szczesny came across the face of his goal in a flash, flinging his body far enough to just get a hand to Cattermole's header. Wojceich Szczesny refused to let us lose today...end of story. We would truly be adrift without him this season, that's for sure. At the end of the campaign, we may be calling this one The Save that Saved the Season.

But, we weren't adrift. We were level, and honestly, the Gunners weren't that bad in the first half. Sure, Jenkinson had that one terrible mistake, but he was pretty good going forward. Rosicky looked infinitely better than he has in eons, and the center-halves had things largely in control. Conversely, Gervinho and Theo Walcott were on the periphery of the match, as Arsenal just couldn't use the flanks effectively. Song was fine when defending, but he continues to show the passing range of Helen Keller with motor-neurone disease.

While Arsenal didn't exactly come out firing after the interval, at the very least they managed to wrest control back of the match. In fact, this is about where Sunderland switched tactics from "soak up pressure and get one piece of ridiculous skill" to "Gears of War 3". Honestly, it was like the Battle of the Somme out there for a while, though at least referee Howard Webb booked the worst offenders (despite the baying for his blood from the regulars today, I thought he had a decent game).

Kieran Gibbs - who had been in better form than recent weeks - came off injured for Andre Santos. The Brazilian didn't affect proceedings much, but at least he didn't cost us at any point either.

A few minutes later, we had a penalty shout that was rightfully turned down in my estimation. Rosicky hit a beautiful long cross-field pass to Walcott, who found some room for a cross on the right-hand side. I didn't catch who it hit, but it was clearly a case where the guy had his arms at his sides in a natural position, and would had to have been Neo from the Matrix in order to get out of the way. Remember, friends...the rule is Intentional Handling. There was no intent in my mind, and thus no penalty.

Interestingly, Steve Bruce opted to switch from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 at this point, withdrawing the excellent Larsson in favor of Ji-Dong Won. Now, I get it with the formation switch, but taking off their biggest set piece threat was questionable at best. Personally, I would have taken off Ahmed El-Mohamady, who while normally excellent was nowhere to be seen today.

In turn, Arsene Wenger removed Gervinho and put on Andrei Arshavin. While the Russian didn't manage to find the scoresheet, he looked far more motivated and put in a hell of a performance in his 25-minute cameo. If he can kick on from here and stay in form, it'll be an immeasurable boost for us.

Almost immediately, he made his presence felt down the left side. I didn't catch who played him in, but he took on three defenders and frankly clowned them all with a mazy run. He didn't have a lot of room to shoot though, the only opening being through the legs of the last defender. His shot still had Simon Mignolet beaten all ends-up, but sadly it skittered just wide of the post. Still, it was a brilliant individual effort and I definitely believe it gave the side some self-belief back.

Arsenal kept the attack up, even despite the somewhat puzzling substitution of Yossi Benayoun on for the excellent Rosicky. It felt like another chance would come, and sure enough, it arrived in the 82nd minute. Song and Benayoun combined to play in van Persie, who won a free kick from Wes Brown (who should have been on at least a yellow for a horror tackle earlier on, and had a brutally-bad game for them). I didn't think much of it at the time, as Arteta, RVP and Walcott had contrived to make a pig's ear out of several free kicks before that.

Not this time.

van Persie took the kick, and curled an unstoppable left-footed shot around the wall and into the top corner past the despairing dive of Mignolet. The relief was palpable on the faces of van Persie, the rest of the Gunners, the crowd at the Grove and inside our own humble abode. There was still a job to be done though, given our penchant for blowing leads.

Speaking of which, Sunderland had the ball in the net two minutes later. In real time, it looked like we had Arsenaled another advantage away, with Ji-Dong Won in acres of space to toe-poke past the advancing Szczesny. However, the replay showed that the linesman got it completely spot-on with his raised flag. It was a real let-off, and thankfully would be the last serious attempt that the Mackems would muster on the day.

Sure, there were a mystifying five minutes of injury time, and there were one or two high-balls that looked like they might have been dangerous. But, credit to our backline, they were all dealt with. Eventually, we got hold of the ball and managed to bleed away the rest of the time added on.

Hopefully, this will be the start of a good run of form as opposed to yet another false start. The win moves us to 10th in the table, 8 points behind the Scum in 4th place (assuming they don't cock it up in the last 5 minutes against Newcastle, though here's hoping). With a fixture list of Marseille (away), Stoke (home) and Chelsea (away) looming, we're going to need that form to see us through.

In the short-term though, let's enjoy this one. GET IN ROBIN!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 9, Gibbs 7 (Santos 6), Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 7, Jenkinson 6, Gervinho 6 (Arshavin 7), Rosicky 7 (Benayoun N/A), Song 6, Arteta 6, Walcott 7, van Persie 9

Men of the Match: Robin van Persie and Wojciech Szczesny