Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis, Iwobi, Giroud
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Coquelin, Wilshere, Walcott, Welbeck, Campbell
Sunderland held Arsenal to a 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light as Arsene Wenger’s misfiring side squandered the chance to go third in the Premier League table. Referee Mike Dean denied both sides a penalty in a first half dominated by the Gunners. Sam Allardyce’s team showed more urgency after the break forcing Petr Cech into several decent stops. Neither side though had the sharpness in the final third to find a winner.
Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud retained their place as Arsene Wenger plumped for the same side that beat West Bromwich Albion on Thursday. Jack Wilshere was a welcome sight on the bench; the England international included in a match squad, at the expense of Calum Chambers, for the first time this season after finally recovering from the fractured fibula suffered in August.
After Newcastle’s point at Anfield yesterday there were expectations that Sunderland might come out of the traps quickly, instead, it was Arsenal who made the brighter start, repeatedly shifting the ball neatly through the midfield to set up a host of half chances.
In total, the Gunners had 12 shots on goal in the first half, six of those on target, and had 75% possession. Of course, when you dominate like that you need to score. We came close, but not close enough.
On 3 minutes Iwobi flashed a drive just past Mannone’s post, Sanchez and Giroud had scrappy efforts fumbled clear and Mertesacker, despite making great contact with a corner, directed his header straight at the keeper.
Sunderland grew in confidence as Arsenal grew frustrated by their failure to break the deadlock. Yann M’Vila, Wahbi Khazri and Lee Cattermole all shot from long range before Patrick van Aanholt clipped the post with a fine free-kick after Defoe won a free-kick dangling a leg in front of Koscielny.
Arsenal came close with a free-kick of their own as Sanchez tried to repeat his scored effort on Thursday. The Chilean got his effort up and over the wall, only for Mannone to parry the ball clear. Iwobi couldn’t do anything with the rebound.
Mike Dean, so often at the centre of controversy, then came to the fore, denying both sides clear penalties for handball. After a terrible Bellerin headed clearance Defoe crashed a shot into Mertesacker’s arms at point-blank range, then five minutes later Andre Yedlin blocked a shot from Iwobi who’d been set up brilliantly by Giroud. The half ended with the home fans yelling, “You don’t know what you’re doing” at the officials.
Sunderland came out with renewed vigour after the break, first Cech pushed away a Defoe volley and then clawed away M’Vila’s follow up. Moments later the keeper got down to his right to push away Khazri’s shot from the edge of the box.
At the other end, Arsenal had an uncanny knack of tying themselves in knots. Too often intricate passing went nowhere and when it did we squandered our chances. An Iwobi sliced shot was particularly galling given the goal was gaping.
Sunderland stepped up the pressure in final thirty minutes with Jermain Defoe particularly dangerous. From a Cattermole pass the ex-England striker improvised a deft looped finish that had Cech stranded. Thankfully for the Gunners the ball dropped just wide. Another break saw Defoe escape Mertesacker, Koscielny had to tidy up.
Arsene Wenger responded by sending on Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott in place of Iwobi and Giroud. The latter wasn’t best pleased, reportedly mouthing, ‘Why always me?’ as he sat down in the dugout.
The two subs nearly took advantage of some reckless keeping from Mannone as the former Gunner misjudged a Cech goal kick and missed the ball after roaring out of his area. Dean deemed Kaboul’s subsequent treatment of Welbeck as legal when it was anything but.
Arsenal kept pressing and Welbeck and Sanchez both stung Mannone’s palms. In between Wenger turned to Jack Wilshere who replaced Mesut Ozil. The home side looked more likely to steal the points in stoppage time but, as was the case for both sides all afternoon, the quality of finishing let them down.