Arsenal have a decent record at Sunderland, who have a decent record against Arsenal at home. Er.
So what I'm trying to say is this: In recent years, Arsenal have come to the Stadium of Light and run up a couple of 3-0 wins and a 4-0 victory. But looksee here: last time round, Sunderland won 1-0 thanks to a late-ish goal from boyhood Arsenal supporter Darren Bent, and should have prevailed the season before, after Grant Leadbitter scored what looked like an 86th-minute winner, only for the Black Cats to concede a last-minute equaliser to Cesc Fabregas.
Why this might be a goalfest: Arsenal have scored 13 in four league games, and are coming off that 6-0 evisceration of Braga midweek.
Why this might not be a goalfest: Sunderland have only managed eight efforts on target this season so far. Eight!
Ha'way the lads: 5.30pm.
Ha'way the pope: So, then, are there any papal omens? Well, the last time Celtic's top man was round this way gassing on, ahead of the 1982/83 season, Sunderland went on to win their next game against Arsenal, 3-0 at Roker Park. In fact they did the double over the Gunners that campaign, with a late-season 1-0 win at Highbury. Sunderland didn't do so well in their post-pope games against clubs from the London region played during September, though: they lost 1-0 at home to Spurs, and 8-0 at Watford. Hmm. This clears nothing up. Where are the pointers here? I thought these religious dudes were supposed to show us the way?
Sunderland leave Asamoah Gyan on the bench again, with Paraguay international Cristian Riveros coming in for suspended captain Lee Cattermole: Mignolet, Onuoha, Bramble, Ferdinand, Richardson, Elmohamady, Riveros, Henderson, Malbranque, Welbeck, Bent.Subs: Carson, Bardsley, Zenden, Da Silva, Reid, Colback, Gyan.
Arsenal field the side which skelped Braga during the week: Almunia, Clichy, Squillaci, Koscielny, Sagna, Song, Wilshere, Nasri, Fabregas, Arshavin, Chamakh.Subs: Fabianski, Rosicky, Vela, Denilson, Djourou, Eboue, Gibbs.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
And with that, the teams run out.
Jaunty pre-match pop at the Stadium of Light:
And we're off! Arsenal, in neon - and quite frankly unpleasant - yellow, get things moving, sending the ball straight up the field and into the paws of Mignolet. "I have recently ordered your book," begins the very wise Lee James, who is guaranteed to get his email published with an opening gambit like that. "I'm wondering who people would consider to be footballing Maurice Flitcrofts? i.e. Players who manage to regularly get games despite being clearly a fraud. An early vote from me goes to Anton Ferdinand- £8m worth of centre back who at 25 has not even managed to represent his country at senior level! That sort of money buys a bunch of Elmohamadys." If Ferdinand hoicks his first pass miles into the air, the ball only travelling forward by a couple of feet, the Flitcroft comparison is going to be very eerie.
3 min: Welbeck goes on a sortie down the left and earns a free kick for his bother. Richardson wings the set piece into the box, but can't clear the first man and the danger is gone before it even arrives. Does that even make sense?
5 min: Fabregas rolls the ball inside from the right to the feet of Song, who diddles this way and that down the inside-right channel towards the box. He eventually lays the ball left to Arshavin, who attempts a curler into the top-right corner. It's not much of an effort, tell the truth, but the move was smooth. So the first half-chance of the match falls to Arsenal, but Sunderland have enjoyed plenty of possession. It's a bright start by both sides.
6 min: Ferdinand has kicked the ball, I can report, projecting it forwards, in a straight line, with supreme confidence. No footballing Flitcroft he.
8 min: Ferdinand, Malbranque and Richardson all make a nuisance of themselves down the left, and win a corner. Malbranque (I think) takes the set piece himself, and hoicks it straight out of play on the other side. What a waste. On the touchline, Steve Bruce hops around angrily like a character in a silent movie who's just had the rim of his hat pulled down over his eyes.
11 min: Sunderland are enjoying the lion's share of possession so far. Onuoha lumps a long free kick from the right into the box. Bramble, to the left of the goal, can't quite get a head on it, the ball coming back down to Richardson on the edge of the area. Richardson takes an almighty lash at the ball, and can't keep the shot down, the ball sailing high and wide right. But that was worth a punt, as the Arsenal defenders aren't coming out quickly. "Much as the Arsenal kit does indeed provoke eye bleed, this can be ameliorated by singing the theme tune to Roobarb and Custard under one's breath, as this horror of a kit is trimmed in an iffy maroon," suggests Allison Sandford. "Na na na naaaah, na na na naaaah, nah nah nah nah nah naaaaaah." If only the technology existed for this report to be read out by the voice of Richard Briers.
13 min: LEE JAMES WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG. ANTON FERDINAND, THE FLITCROFT OF DEFENDERS INDEED. Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal. Poor hapless Anton, in acres of space in the middle of his own half, needlessly fannies around for ages while waiting to punt the ball clear. Eventually he chooses to pelt it upfield, but Fabregas has closed him down. The Spaniard sticks a foot out, and the ball rebounds in a massive arc of amusement back over Mignolet and into the top-left corner of the net. That was ludicrous. Why on earth did he wait so long? Dear me.
16 min: A good response by Sunderland. First Malbranque claims a penalty after romping straight into the Arsenal box - it isn't though, he just runs witlessly into Squillaci - and then Onuoha gets his head on a Henderson corner from the right, eight yards out, dead centre. He really should score, or hit the target at least, but sends his header over the crossbar. This is a great game so far.
19 min: A brilliant save by Mignolet. Arshavin clips a cross into the Sunderland box from the left. Song's at the far post. He heads down, on target, only to see his effort tipped round the post by the agile keeper. The corner comes to naught. "Brilliant," writes Lee James, who has played a blinder here, it has to be said. "I'm feeling smugger than David Cameron at a screen test for the next Pillsbury Dough boy."
22 min: Wilshire tries a Cruyff Turn down the Sunderland right. Welbeck reads it and scampers off with the ball. The piqued Arsenal midfielder hauls him down by the shoulder. He's booked for his trouble.
24 min: Henderson sends what must be his fifth free kick of the game so far into the Arsenal box. Every single one has failed to clear the first man.
26 min: Sunderland are pressing strongly, enjoying a lot of the ball. They're the better team, and by quite some distance. But only up until the Arsenal area; they've failed to create a chance, or even take a decent shot on target. Steve Bruce looks very frustrated.
28 min: Henderson sends a clever ball straight down the middle and into the Arsenal area. Bent goes down under a challenge by Koscielny. He claims a penalty - by now Steve Bruce is jumping around on the touchline like Martin O'Neill - but it's just a shoulder-to-shoulder charge, and nothing's doing.
30 min: It's non-stop, this. Arshavin has a shot towards the bottom-left corner that's saved by Mignolet. Almunia plucks a Henderson corner from the air without fuss. And the "goalscorer" Fabregas goes off, to be replaced by Rosicky. Not sure what's wrong with him; maybe he pulled a stomach muscle guffawing at Ferdinand's haplessness.
33 min: Fabregas has, it seems, hurt his right knee. "On the subject of Footballing Flitcrofts," begins Ant, "would it be uncharitable (not to mention too obvious) to put forward Claus Lundekvam?" Not at all. Knock yourself out. "He played over 300 games for Southampton, played in an FA Cup Final, yet his own manager was famously unable to distinguish between him upright and playing and being stretchered off near-comatose. Gordon Strachan was asked if he might be unconscious to which he replied with words to the effect of 'I don't have a clue, that's what he's always like'." Of course, if we're being strict about the definition of a Footballing Flitcroft, there's only one Southampton player who qualifies: Ali Dia. A textbook study of desire over ability, a chancer, and an example to us all.
36 min: It's all Sunderland, this, you know. They're first to every ball in the middle of the park. BUT THEY'RE NOT DOING A SINGLE THING AT THE BUSINESS END OF THE PITCH.
37 min: Oh this was a peach of a cross. Elmohamady curls the ball into the six-yard box from the right. The keeper doesn't know whether to come, the defenders are too frightened to intercept, and so Riveros is able to get the jump on everyone and throw himself head first to the ball. He really should connect and spear the ball home, but he only succeeds in spooning it miles into the air. Almunia claims. Sunderland should at least be on terms.
39 min: Song is booked for his 384th niggly foul of the half. He looks livid at the decision, but can have no complaints. Indeed, he might have even got away with this one - a late flip on Henderson - had he not bitched at the award of a foul.
40 min: Clichy hits one of the worst shots in the history of All Football. Bowling into the box down the inside-left channel, he's aiming for the bottom-right corner, but manages to send the ball zipping off at a right angle instead. In fact, I think that might even have gone a little bit backwards. Surely not? Has anyone else ever taken a shot that's immediately gone backwards?
41 min: More news on Fabregas: it's not his knee, it's his hamstring. The injury seems to be moving slowly north. He'll be coming out to sit on the bench for the second half with a neck brace on.
43 min: Chamakh busies himself around the feet of Onuoha down the left, and wins a corner through pester power. Great play, but the resulting set piece is a waste of time. On the whole, Arsenal have been very, very quiet in this half.
45 min: Such a lovely run by Elmohamady, who slaloms 40 yards down the right only to have the ball eventually nicked off him by Clichy. No worries; he puts in a crunching tackle to win it back, and pulls a low ball back towards the onrushing Bent. The ball's bundled away by an Arsenal player right at the last, before a shot can be sent whistling goalwards. Sunderland deserve an equaliser, but it doesn't look like they're going to get one before the break.
HALF TIME: Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal. And that's that for the half. Arsenal leave the scene with guilty looks plastered all over their faces. Meanwhile we have an answer to the question about whether someone has ever taken a shot that's immediately gone backwards. "In Sweden we call it klackspark," reports Nima Dadgaranfar. "I believe the english term is 'a back-heel'."
And we're off again! Sunderland get the ball rolling again. "Here's a backwards shot, courtesy of Tom Bason: "John Carew, Molineux last season.. Although the chalkboards rather kindly claim it as a pass, I can assure you it was a shot - a wild, wild swing at the ball, completely mis-hit, it crosed the touchline near the halfway line."
45 min 30 sec: And Sunderland don't fanny around, Welbeck immediately racing after a bouncing bomb down the inside-right channel and unleashing a very decent dipping volley just over the bar.
47 min: It's been open from the off, this game, and the second half looks like delivering too. Chamakh, who has been running like the clappers all afternoon, romps down the right and clips a cross to the near post. Arshavin ghosts in at speed, but can't get his sidefooted shot on target. This could be 1-1, it could be 0-2.
49 min: Welbeck is booked for a late slide on Sagna down the Arsenal left. No arguments. A few seconds later, Rosicky diddles in from the right, then Song shuttles the ball across to Arshavin, coming in from the left. Arshavin takes a whack at goal, but it's hopeless, miles wide right of target. "Were you riffing deliberately on the tale of Lundekvam being unconscious when you wrote 'knock yourself out'?" wonders Ant, who can spot automatic writing a mile off. "Secondly, if being a disreputable chancer is thrown into the mix, as opposed to merely a lumbering stooge who inexplicably got games, then the infamous Rafael Scheidt springs to mind. Or bearing in mind that we're talking footballers who regularly inexplicably got games but were also mercenary chancers, then I might also put forward Roque Junior's 'career' at Leeds United."
51 min: Arshavin has come out for the second half with a look of intent in his eyes. He scampers down the left and nearly finds Chamakh in the middle, but the pass is just behind the striker, who would have connected, six yards out, just to the left of goal. This is not going to end 0-1.
52 min: Bent gets his head on a left-wing cross, eight yards out. There's neither power, nor direction on it. A poor miss. Then, down the other end, Chamakh cuts inside from the left, opens his body up, and sidefoots straight at Mignolet when one-on-one with the keeper. Another poor miss. This is very entertaining. "In American football we call it a 'lateral'," says Chris Collins. "A backwards pass that is. Let the ridiculing begin."
55 min: RED CARD!!! Song picks up his second yellow for a blatant obstruction on Malbranque. On the touchline, Wenger pats the assistant referee on the shoulder, as though saying "well done", but his sarcasm does him no favours; Song's been trying it on all afternoon, and can complain about neither yellow.
57 min: Sunderland will of course be pleased to be facing ten men, but even more so as their passing was beginning to go a bit awry, their high-intensity pressing game beginning to take its toll.
58 min: And Sunderland already look like they've got a renewed spring in their step, Henderson working a corner in from the left, Bent swinging a boot at it from ten yards but sending a powerful shot wide. He should have done much better.
60 min: Bramble really should be in the book for a crude lunge on Wilshere just to the left of the Sunderland D. But the referee's card stays in his pocket. Arsenal's fans explode in rage, and you can't really blame them for that. Nasri blasts a poor free kick miles over the bar.
61 min: By the way, Arshavin has been sacrificed by Arsene Wenger, Denilson coming on to shore things up for the ten men in yellow.
62 min: Elmohamady tickles the ball down the right, and clips a cross towards Bent in the centre. Squillaci manages to guide the ball away from the striker. "I think Phil Dowd is trying to stick it to Arsene for all his talk about bad fouls during the week," opines Sean Orlowicz.
64 min: Riveros is booked for the lightest tug on Nasri. How he's in the book and Brambe isn't, I'll never know. And that's the last thing he does this fine evening; he's replaced by Gyan.
66 min: From a Henderson corner on the right, Denilson nearly finds the top-left corner of his own net. Luckily for the Arsenal man, Clichy is on hand to head off the line. "From your description of the goal there might be a need for the CPU to take a look," suggests a solemn Ian Copestake. "A retrospective spot-fixing video panel needs to be set up to delve into just why Anton dallied so long. Unless he is just crap."
67 min: Elmohamady, who is fast staking a claim to be man of the match, romps after the ball down the right. Clichy is favourite to win it, and does, but the wide-man whips it off his toe and sends a low cross into the centre. Nothing comes of it, Bent and Welbeck both sitting back on their heels. "When does an Arsenal match ever end 1-0?" asks Chris Collins, proving that Americans both know their football and can do irony.
70 min: Arsenal have been poor for most of the game, but here they put together a wonderful sequence of passes, Denilson, Rosicky and Nasri stroking it around the middle in triangles for what seems like ages. Eventually Rosicky drops a shoulder, puts on the afterburners, and makes for the box, slapping a low shot wide left. A lame finish, but what a move.
73 min: Bramble hauls Clichy down, 25 yards from goal on the left. Rosicky's free kick was dreadful, whether it was a shot towards the top-right corner, or a cross. Mignolet plucks the ball from the sky.
74 min: PENALTY TO ARSENAL!!! Elmohamady needlessly clips Nasri's heels as the Arsenal man meanders aimlessly in the Sunderland box. What a pointless challenge. What a clear penalty.
75 min: ROSICKY MISSES!!! And how. He welts the ball as hard as he possibly can, sending a dreadful effort blazing over the right-hand side of the crossbar and bending this way and that into the crowd behind. Dear God that was dismal.
77 min: Bolo Zenden, 83, replaces Onuoha. "So, if Arsenal manage to hold on for a 1-0 victory here, will the media portray it as Arsenal showing the ability to win the close matches or that they played terribly and are clearly not title contenders?" wonders Dave Konopka. "I'm leaning towards the latter."
78 min: The ball breaks down the inside-left channel for Gyan. He's clear of the last yellow shirt, but Almunia has his gameface on, and races out of his area to hack clear. Superb keeping.
81 min: Malbranque swings a cross into the Arsenal area from the left. Gyan is rushing in, and meets it with his head eight yards out, but can't get any power on it, and Almunia claims. He looks off the pace, does the Ghana striker; he's already run down a couple of blind alleys. "I'm guessing the headlines tomorrow will be that Cesc Fabregas' hamstring would rather play for Barcelona instead of Arsenal," writes James Wells. "It's in its DNA."
83 min: A determined run from a contrite Rosicky, who picks the ball up under pressure on the left wing, cuts inside to the centre, and slaps a shot not too far over the crossbar. A decent effort.
85 min: Malbranque picks up a yellow for a clear deliberate clip on Denilson's ankles. Nasri takes the free kick, 40 yards out, just to the left of the target. He nudges it left to Denilson, who drags a fizzer miles wide left.
87 min: Andy Reid comes on for Malbranque.
89 min: Nasri slips past two defenders down the right with a superlative turn. On the byline, he makes for the near post, but is robbed of the ball just before he can shoot home. Up the other end, Henderson sends a low effort into Almunia's arms. It looks as though the ten men of Arsenal are going to hold out, despite Sunderland having played very well. The Gunners have been staunch since going a man down; this would be a superb win.
90 min: There will be four more minutes of this.
90 min +1: Sunderland hump it long a lot, getting precisely nowhere.
90 min +2: Denilson is sent scampering into the Sunderland half by a long ball from Wilshere. He twists and turns, and sends a low bouncer just past the right-hand post.
90 min +3: Bent tries to swivel and shoot, in the style of Zinedine Zidane in the 2002 Champions League final. The ball's spirited away before he can make contact.
94 mins 24 seconds: AS DRAMATIC AS YOU LIKE!!! Sunderland 1-1 Arsenal. A melee in the area. Gyan gets the ball stuck under his feet. Clichy slices a terrible clearance about two feet in front of him. Bent pounces, lashing a shot home from six yards.
FULL TIME: Sunderland 1-1 Arsenal. And that's it. Arsene Wenger looks distraught, Steve Bruce ecstatic. Tomas Rosicky walks off, looking depressed beyond psychological precedent. A deserved draw, I think, but one that'll feel like a loss to Arsenal, and a win for Sunderland. Anton Ferdinand owes Darren Bent a pint, I think. And I told you it was never going to end 0-1.
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