Sunday 26 January 2020

Wenger laments 'anxiety' as Gunners fire blanks

Sunderland 0 Arsenal 0

Sunderland’s DeAndre Yedlin puts his best foot forward as he gets the better of Alex Iwobi during yesterday’s Premier League match at the Stadium of Light. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Sunderland’s DeAndre Yedlin puts his best foot forward as he gets the better of Alex Iwobi during yesterday’s Premier League match at the Stadium of Light. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Sunderland's Seb Larsson gets away from Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny. Photo: Scott Heppell/PA Wire
Sunderland's Lamine Kone gets just ahead of Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey. Photo: Scott Heppell/PA Wire.

Martin Hardy

The agony, and that is what it is now, goes on, for both Sunderland and Arsenal. No goals and no nearer towards knowing whether there will be the Championship for the former and the Champions League for the latter.

You could not fault Sunderland for their effort and you could not fault Arsenal for their passing, except where it mattered. Then, there was a bad decision, indecision but no incision, a beautiful shadow boxer with pillows for fists.

The home supporters at the Stadium of Light took delight in the point and the effort that moved their side out of the relegation zone, but that there is now just one point separating their side, Norwich and rivals Newcastle tells you the real heartache, the real drama, is on its way, lurking in the shadows to ruin two sets of supporters' summers.

It was not the case in this game, you knew that from the fact both managers were asked about the penalties that were not given.

Mike Dean turned down a vociferous shout from the home side and then for the visitors in the space of eight first-half minutes. On both occasions, in the cold light of day, his caution looked sensible.


Per Mertesacker certainly did not deliberately handle the ball and his hands were in the exact body shape of a man turning his back on a ball that had been smashed at him, by Jermain Defoe, from about a couple of metres away. His body shape was natural, so was the position of his arms.

Similarly the ball that struck DeAndre Yedlin on the arm bounced up off his boot. Arsene Wenger accepted it and praised Dean for his decisions.

After that, it was about the old Arsenal failing of dithering.

It is too easy to batter Arsenal, whose principles are what most people want to watch their side doing, dominating the ball, playing clever passes, but even Wenger was frustrated by the lack of punch.

It is 14 games now without a goal for Olivier Giroud, and he never looked like breaking that run at the Stadium of Light, and that from a team who enjoyed more than 70pc possession and somehow mustered 20 shots.

Only the free-kick that was struck by Mesut Ozil in the 34th minute really worried Vito Mannone, who had to dive full stretch to his right to save.

He kept out shots from Mohamed Elneny and Danny Welbeck but they were routine stops.

In contrast, despite conceding possession and territory and facing a bit of a half-time rocket from Sam Allardyce - "I told my midfielders to get in their faces" - Sunderland struck woodwork in the first-half through Patrick van Aanholt's free-kick and in a dominant two-minute spell forced Petr Cech into saves from Defoe, Yann M'Vila and Wahbi Khazri. There was also a Defoe lob that was not a million miles away.

By the finish, Allardyce was bemoaning lost points, which said much. Wenger looked fairly crestfallen at the title officially being out of reach once more. Both men must rally their troops, however, as there are still huge prizes to play for.

Afterwards, Wenger spoke of his disappointment that the league title has once more eluded him after it became mathematically impossible for Arsenal to be crowned champions.

Arsenal led the Premier League until the middle of January but their form since and the goalless draw at the Stadium of Light means it is impossible for Wenger and his side to be crowned kings of England.

That stretches the run without a title to 12 years and Wenger said: "It is frustrating. We play to win the title. The fact we do not win it is frustrating, like it is for many other teams."

On his side's push to qualify for a Champions League place - they sit five points ahead of Manchester United having played a game more - he said: "Of course I'm worried.

"We care about that and we worry about it. It's a fight. There are two leagues, the teams taking it easier and then you have the teams who are at the front and the teams who are fighting to not go down.

"Yes, it was frustrating. In the second half we dropped physically and the game became more tight. Both teams had chances.

"In the first half we should have taken a lead into the dressing-room. They made it difficult for us but I felt a team like Sunderland is ready to fight for their lives. They will never give up, but they started with anxiety and we had to take advantage of that. We couldn't do that.

"There is anxiety in front of goal. At the moment Olivier (Giroud) cannot score and you feel he's not at the same level of confidence. You go through spates of that. We have to support him and give him the confidence."

Both Arsenal and Sunderland were denied penalties and Wenger said: "I wouldn't have gave any of them. The players were too close to the guys who took the shot. There was no intention to play the ball. The referee did well on that."

Allardyce did not agree. "The ref should have given us a penalty," he said.

"Blatant. Obvious. He turns his back and sticks his arms out, when you're trying to block a shot you're not supposed to turn your back. It stopped a certain goal - 100pc a penalty.

"That's not to say we could have won it but we would have liked it. Arsenal may have come back but I'm pleased with level of performance given the pressure we are under. I'm glad we overcame our nerves.

"I'd say I'm slightly disappointed we haven't taken all three on the overall performance. I'd have been happy with a point before the game but on our change of slight tactics which allowed us to create more and more, we didn't get the goal to pinch it. That would have been huge.

"A clean sheet and a very good point. For the first time in many months we are out of the bottom three and hopefully it will be a big psychological boost for the players. It is in our hands now." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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