Tuesday 20 March 2018

Bent breaks Arsenal hearts with injury-time equaliser

Arsenal missed the chance to go top of the table in dramatic fashion when the Premier League's latest last-gasp finish denied them with seconds to spare. By the time Darren Bent smashed home an equaliser, after an Andy Reid corner that Arsenal failed to completely clear, Pat Rice had been on his feet appealing for the final whistle for at least a minute.

Phil Dowd appeared to be generous in his interpretation of four extra minutes, for it was some time in the fifth that Sunderland managed to break down Arsenal's resistance, yet in a way a draw was the least the home side deserved. Had 10-man Arsenal held out, it would only have been a fluke goal of comic proportions that took them ahead of Chelsea.

Arsenal had Alex Song dismissed in the second half and saw Tomas Rosicky blaze over from the penalty spot before the end yet still the home side were entitled to feel they deserved something from the match.

Speculation has been rife all week about whether the real Braga team turned up at the Emirates to be spanked 6-0, amid general disbelief that such a bunch of wimps could really have put Sevilla out of the Champions League, but not even a side of Togo-type imposters would have gifted the Gunners the preposterously soft goal Sunderland conceded after 13 minutes here.

Perhaps the number on the clock was unlucky for Anton Ferdinand, certainly one of the most freakish goals of the season left Steve Bruce with his head in his hands.

All Ferdinand had to do was deal with a routine pass back over the halfway line, with the ball played to his feet. Virtually any option suggested itself, from a quick hoof upfield or the safety option of Row Z to a feint to throw the advancing Cesc Fabregas off the scent, yet the defender dillied and dallied until his opponent was almost on top of him then attempted, too late, to drive the ball past him. The Arsenal captain stuck a foot out for the hell of it and the ball ballooned upwards and backwards, sailing over the stranded Simon Mignolet's head and into his net from almost 40 yards out.

When you have luck like that and your other centre-half is Titus Bramble you need to make sure you take your chances at the other end, yet for the rest of the first half Sunderland worked hard but were wasteful in front of goal.

Arsenal had lost Fabregas by that stage, sending on Tomas Rosicky as a replacement on the half hour, and Sunderland -- even with Asamoah Gyan left on the bench -- might have been able to claim they had shaded the first half but for turning round a goal down. Danny Welbeck opened the second half with a dipping shot over Manuel Almunia's bar, before Arsenal missed two chances to make the game safe in as many minutes. First Andrey Arshavin could not make a telling connection when he got on the end of Marouane Chamakh's inviting cross, ending up spooning the ball up and over the goal from just a few feet out, then he missed the target again when Alex Song's pass left him a clear shooting opportunity. Bent headed wide when he and Welbeck appeared to go for the same cross, but Arsenal were beginning to find their passing range and Mignolet had to make a sharp stop to deny Chamakh.

The game changed when Song was dismissed after an almost an hour, with Arsene Wenger withdrawing Arshavin to bolster the midfield with Denilson.

Song more or less had to go, having been treated leniently on a couple of earlier occasions in addition to a first half caution for a foul on Henderson. It could be argued that he merely stood his ground and refused to get out of Steed Malbranque's way, but only by a rugby league referee, and Wenger had little cause to pat the fourth official's shoulder in mock congratulation.

Gyan came on for the last half hour and managed a header that Almunia saved, though Arsenal should have been two up by then following Elmohamady's ankle tap on Samir Nasri in the area. Rosicky went for power and sent the ball into the Arsenal fans in the South Stand.

Bent shot wide following a corner and Henderson saw a late effort saved but significantly Sunderland's best chance of an equaliser was when Gael Clichy cleared off the line from Denilson, before Bent came up with the showstopper.


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