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Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez Punishes Sunderland’s Defensive Howlers

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ARSENE Wenger has described his side as warming up nicely but still striving to reach “boiling point”. In other words Arsenal’s class of 2014-15 are big on promise but not yet quite as formidable as they probably should be.

There were rare moments when his players threatened to drop a point here but, for the most part, Sunderland made things reasonably straightforward as the excellent Alexis Sánchez scored twice and the latest bout of perceived pressure surrounding Arsenal’s manager eased.

For the moment at least that unwanted baton has been passed to Gus Poyet. If a home draw with Hull spelt bad news for Wenger last week, an 8-0 surrender at Southampton has placed Sunderland’s manager in an unwanted spotlight. If this latest defeat was nothing like as humiliating, Sunderland made two appalling errors and, despite much commendable commitment, looked worryingly vulnerable at times. Poyet’s team have won once in the Premier League this season and it threatens to be a long winter on Wearside.

“After such a big defeat Sunderland were focused on defending very well,” said a smiling Wenger. “But we were in control.”

Poyet did his best to hide his frustration. “Compared to last week the organisation was there but we made two bad mistakes,” he said. “I don’t know if it was tension. There’s a little bit of anger in the dressing room because the players fought really hard.”

If the fact that Wenger was missing eight regular first-team players will not have been lost on his rather more thinly-staffed counterpart, Sunderland fans certainly turned wistful at the sight of Danny Welbeck, a former loanee here, offering Arsenal extra directness and dynamism. This turned out to be far from his best game but, even so, Welbeck swiftly reminded locals precisely what they are missing when, cued up by Sánchez and Santi Cazorla, he unleashed a curling, dipping shot that flew fractionally over Vito Mannone’s bar.

Understandably on edge following his experience at St Mary’s, Mannone’s nerves subsequently showed when he spilled a routine cross before being rescued by John O’Shea’s interception. By then Arsenal were controlling the tempo, slowing things right down when it suited them and reducing Poyet to a restless, twitchy figure constantly running through the full gamut of animated grimaces as he prowled the touchline.

The Uruguayan’s fears were realised on the half-hour mark. For some reason Wes Brown opted to unleash an ill-advised back-pass from a long way out. Even worse he totally miscued it and watched appalled as the ball dropped into Sánchez’s path.

A brilliant goal was seconds away. Left one-on-one against the advancing Mannone, Sánchez beat the former Arsenal goalkeeper courtesy of a delicate, beautifully weighted right-footed dink. “Sanchez has super quality,” Wenger said. “He took advantage of their mistakes.”

On a day when Cazorla missed two presentable chances, Sunderland were always second best but rallied creditably with Wojciech Szczesny reacting smartly to keep out Jack Rodwell’s header early in the second half.

Shortly afterwards Rodwell was caught on the chin by Mikel Arteta’s boot. Although clearly unintentional, it still constituted dangerous play and, with the home fans demanding his dismissal, he was shown a yellow card. It was not the only high boot or reckless challenge as, with Arsenal clearly becoming anxious about their failure to score a second goal and Sunderland upping their game, tackles flew in and tempers rose.

Injuries to Steven Fletcher and Kieran Gibbs weakened both sides but, despite Gibbs’s departure, Arsenal finished the stronger. Welbeck might have compensated for a largely disappointing 90 minutes – (although he was harshly booked for diving) – by heading Nacho Monreal’s inviting cross home but instead directed the ball narrowly over the bar.

Watching as a substitute for the first time since his knee operation in January Theo Walcott must have been hoping for a summons from Wenger but instead remained on the bench as Sánchez stroked his second goal home from six yards in stoppage time.

Delighted as Arsenal’s manager undoubtedly was to see his star summer signing stroke a simple chance into the empty net, Wenger expressed “sympathy” for his old goalkeeper. Caught in possession after being played into trouble, the horrified Italian saw the ball bobble off his boot and roll towards Sánchez’s feet.

As Mannone trudged off looking close to tears, Costel Pantilimon, his understudy, would hardly have been human had he not sensed an opportunity looming. – The Guardian

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