Arsenal 0 v Sunderland 0

Why is it that when an opportunity to close the gap at the Premiership summit appears, Arsenal fail to take advantage on leaders Manchester United ? The 0-0 against Sunderland at the Emirates on Saturday was not the result that Arsene Wenger or his players would have wanted, and but for some fine saves from Simon Mignolet, the Gunners would surely have won this game. Oh and referee Anthony Gardner and his officials won’t be too surprised to get plaudits from United’s players and staff after two controversial decisons denied the Gunners three vital points.

Penalty

Firstly, a penalty when Titus Bramble felled Andrey Arshavin four minutes from time, and then an offside given against the Russian, when the replays showed him to be onside, only a minute later.Crucially, both were not given, leading Arsene Wenger to proclaim “I’m too disgusted to talk about it,”

Crucial

When your side is bereft of the skills Cecs Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Theo Walcott and Alex Song, the team suffers. After a knock on his ankle after some questionable challenges, the last thing Wenger needed was Jack Wilshere struggling to be fit for the crucial Champions League second leg in the Nou Camp. The Arsenal manager is hopeful of his recovery.

Poor

A lacklustre start was not what was on the Arsenal agenda, but the midfield of Denilson and Abou Diaby was not the robust unit it needed to be. Time and time again, the pair were guilty of poor pass selection, missed tackles and general out of sorts play. Sunderland sensed this and but for a fine save from Wojciech Szczesny from Stephane Sessegnon, could have gone ahead on 17 minutes. The best the Gunners could muster was Nicklas Bendtner narrowly failing to get onto a pass from Gael Clichy. Bacary Sagna kept the move alive, feeding Samir Nasri, but Mignolet was well placed. Arshavin threatened on the half hour mark, but Bramble timed his tackle well to clear the danger.

Happy

To prove he was over the League Cup shambles, Laurent Koscielny was happy to get on the ball and willing to surge forward at will, as was Johan Djourou, but the spark that Fabregas brings was missing. The skill of the half saw Nasri trick his way past Phil Bardsley, but the angle became too narrow for a cross or a shot. Bendner’s overhead kick was clever, but again Mignolet held firm on 36 minutes, as he did from Nasri a minute later. The game’s opener should have arrived after Wilshere’s clever chip fell for Bendtner who caught the ball true from a sharp angle. The ball was powering into the net, until Mignolet pulled off another fine save.

Thudded

With an hour gone, Marouane Chamakh came on for Denilson. Mignolet was again called into action from Arshavin’s shot and from Nasri’s well flighted free-kick that the Belgium stopper pushed away on 72 minutes. Three minutes later Wilshere’s cross found Chamakh whose header finally beat the Sunderland ‘keeper, but sadly not the cross bar it thudded into.

Unwitting

Szczesny was tested by substitute Danny Welbeck’s effort, but with four minutes remaining came controversy. Arshavin raced onto Bendtner’s pass, and was out pacing Bramble. With both hands, Bramble pushed Arshavin before his shot went wide, a clear shout for a penalty that the referee got horribly wrong. Just to show consistency, the assistant referee flagged Arshavin offside as he rounded the ‘keeper to ‘score’ on 86 minutes, when the Russian was found to have been level with the last defender. It was to that kind of day for the Gunners. In a week which saw Sir Alex Ferguson hit out at referee Martin Atkinson, he will have been pleased that referee Taylor – who hails from Manchester – has given United a little unwitting help.

With the season coming to an intriguing climax, Arsenal need their injured players back, and fast too.