Wenger praise for Walcott's upward curve
Arsenal 2 Sunderland 0
Published 21/02/2010 | 05:00
This title is looking like one nobody wants to win. Arsenal made hard work of finishing off a Sunderland side on a desperate run and are now just two points behind Manchester United and six behind leaders Chelsea.
They were supposed to be out of it but as the challengers limp and stumble towards May, Arsene Wenger's team are clawing their way back into contention.
"I don't remember a title race like this," Wenger said. "I tell you, we want to win it, but the others won't let us! There is impatience in football, everybody has to have an opinion. Today everybody will say Chelsea will win the title. But things can change very quickly."
Last season Liverpool lost two games and could finish only second. The top three have lost 16 games between them this season. In the whole of last season the top three teams lost only 11 games. Unpredictability is the only certainty this time.
"The only thing we can do is win our games and hope that the others drop points," Wenger said. "That will certainly happen. They will play each other so it is impossible for one of them not to drop points."
Arsenal dominated from the start and should have buried Sunderland in the first quarter of an hour. This was Sunderland's 13th game without a win and they looked like a side bereft of confidence as Arsenal poured forward.
Samir Nasri had a shot heavily deflected just wide while Nicklas Bendtner's blocked shot looped up and came back off the bar.
Theo Walcott started on the right and, with Fabio Capello watching, it was a great opportunity to convince the Italian he was worth a recall for the friendly with Egypt on March 3. It certainly started promisingly for Walcott: twice his incredible pace embarrassed George McCartney in the opening tussles. The first time, having chased Cesc Fabregas' fine channel pass, he shot wide; the second time, after Emmanuel Eboue's pass, he tried to thread the ball through Craig Gordon's legs from a tight angle.
Walcott's speed is a remarkable weapon but he continues to hurry decisions and too often his final ball was overcooked. "I think he's much sharper than he was three weeks ago," Wenger said. "He still lacks a little bit of confidence in the final third. But for 60 or 70 minutes he looked dangerous and made good runs and I believe he's on the way up."
Walcott needs a run of games to try to find his rhythm and once he has it he should focus on keeping things as simple as possible. That, of course, is not the Arsenal way. Their penchant for elaboration was in evidence here as they failed to put the game away.
The honourable exception was Eboue. He raided thrillingly from right-back, breaking at pace and taking on the Sunderland rearguard. It was his direct running that created the first goal. He slipped past Darren Bent with ease and closed in on goal.
McCartney stood off him and Eboue hit what was probably a shot through his legs. Bendtner had anticipated the effort and tapped in at the far post. Sunderland appealed but replays showed the striker was onside.
Arsenal continued to create and miss chances, meaning that Sunderland were only an error away from a draw. They had their chances to score. Kenwyne Jones missed the best, having been put clean through by Kieran Richardson, who had caught Aaron Ramsey in possession.
Bent might well have won a penalty in the closing stages if he had gone down under challenge from Mikael Silvestre -- the Frenchman had his arm across the striker. Still, Arsenal opened up the visitors time and again and finally got their second in stoppage time.
Fabregas was bundled over by Frazier Campbell just inside the box. The Arsenal captain stepped up to take it and placed it crisply into the bottom right-hand corner.
Gordon went the right way but so accurate was the shot he couldn't prevent it going in. If the rest of the Arsenal team had been as precise, the game would have been long over.