Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1

If there were any question marks surrounding Arsenal’s physical and mental strength at tough away games, and especially at raucous venues in the north of England, then inspired by Santi Cazorla’s ninth goal of the season the Gunners responded with a performance that was full of fight, resilience and an attitude that was welcomed, and especially after Carl Jenkisnson was shown a second yellow card with over half an hour remaining in this pulsating match at the Stadium of Light.

Jack Wilshere had threatened with virtually every run and pass, and it was a great shame that the England midfielder received a whack on his thigh that cut short his inspirational influence in midfield. But Arsenal recorded back to back wins and just a crucially back to back clean sheets in the face of some very severe testing from the home side.

After seeing Wilshere shine in a man of the match performance in England’s 2-1 midweek win over Brazil at Wembley, Wenger had spoken of his fears of burnout and especially given that Wilshere is continuing to recover from a seventeen month absence due to injury. Against Sunderland, it wasn’t hard to see who Martin O’Neil’s side had identified as the threat to his side, Wilshere was at the heart of everything Arsenal created.

His pass to Olivier Giroud after Nacho Monreal had won possession deep in Sunderland’s half should have seen Arsenal take the lead. Under pressure from his marker and from a tightening angle, the France striker however hit low but just wide of Simon Mignolet’s upright.

Wilshere then took possession and ran at the Sunderland defence, creating panic as they backed off. The ball was laid off the Aaron Ramsey, and with only Mignolet’s ahead, Ramsey let fly with a strong shot, only to see the Belgium stopper produce a full stretch dive, to make a fine save just past the half hour mark.

Moments later and Wilshere was mesmerising the opposition defence again, but this time there was to be reward for his effort. Another Wilshere surge, and a pass to Theo Walcott this time. The Gunners’ 14 instinctively laid the ball in the path of the advancing Cazorla. The Spain midfielder let fly with a low show that beat Mignolet to give Arsenal the lead after 35 minutes. Had Ramsey found the target from Giroud’s powerful forward play soon afterwards, Arsenal would have had a deserved second, but again Mignolet reacted by spreading himself to make a point blank save from the Wales international.

Prior to kick off, Arsenal were forced to replace Laurent Koscielny after he felt his calf tweak in the warm up. Bacary Sagna was charged with a central defence partnership alongside Per Mertersacker with Jenkinson coming in at right back. Having received a yellow card for a tackle on Jack Colback, Jenkinson would always be under pressure as the home side went about trying to reduce the deficit.

Alfred N’Diaye had seen an earlier header go over the bar, while Stephane Sessegnon would always provide a test for Monreal. With Wilshire’s forced removal after 56 minutes, Abou Diaby came on for the Gunners, with former Gunner Sebastien Larsson coming on for the Black Cats.

Giroud and Cazorla tried to carve further openings, as Arsenal remained in control until they were reduced to ten men. Sessegnon’s pace took him beyond Jenskinson. A second yellow card was produced and the 21 year old had his marching orders. That was to symbolise a resurgence in Sunderland. But for the excellent goalkeeping from Wojciech Szczesny, the Gunners makeshift defence may have been breached. But the Poland stopper made a fine reflex save from Stephen Fletcher, and another to push the ball away with Titus Bramble hooking wide of the post.

Sunderland lay siege to Szczesny’s goal, with corners and free-kicks raining down on the Gunners rearguard. But they would hold firm.

Arsenal had further chances to double their lead. Cazorla slipped a beauty of a pass to Walcott. As Mignolet narrowed the angle, Walcott’s shot got past the Sunderland keeper, but agonisingly hit the post.

Wenger was all smiles after the win and hailed the influence of Cazorla.” Top, top class,” was how he descried the midfielder’s afternoon’s work.
“When you think that this guy is not a regular in the Spanish national team, it shows you how good they are. I think he had an outstanding performance today.”

” We were under pressure to win today. We could not afford to drop points, I said that after the Chelsea game. We are in a situation where we cannot drop points anymore. No matter where we play, we need the three points,” continued Wenger.

The robust fighting mentality, combined with the skill and flair that Arsenal fans know exists within their side will be needed from now until the end of the season. It is vital, the players understand that crucial fact.