Bruised, battered and at times just plain bad, a stumbling Arsenal side managed to find just the tonic: a team that is in worse shape than they are. No, Sunderland don’t resemble a casualty ward, but they do play some pretty awful football, and today they handed Alexis Sanchez two goals on a plate to send the Gunners back to London with three points and a 2-0 win.
The Black Cats have endured one of the worst weeks in memory, first getting pounded by Southampton 8-0 in a match so embarrassing that Sunderland’s players refunded their fans’ tickets. If Gus Poyet was expecting a response, he will be sorely disappointed, as even against a sloppy and slack Arsenal side that was wasteful on the ball, Sunderland proved to be a side that cannot get out of their own way.
Dire for long stretches, with both teams coughing the ball up needlessly and following their mistakes with some ridiculous tackles, Sunderland tossed the match away in the 30th minute when Wes Brown inexplicably passed the ball to Alexis to allow him a free sight on goal. Never mind that Brown was at the halfway line, and never mind that he was under no pressure at all: somehow he scuffed a routine cross and then tapped the ball on to Alexis, who looked like a man who could not believe his luck. Alexis then ran in on Vito Mannone to chip the ball over and into the net.
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Mannone would be at fault on the second goal, which came in stoppage. Again, Alexis was the beneficiary as Mannone dawdled on the ball, allowing the Chilean to steal it and tuck the ball in.
The win, as has become routine for Arsenal, came with a cost: Kieran Gibbs had to be removed with an injury, and Per Mertesacker also looked in some trouble as the whistle blew. Will Arsenal have any defenders left for their match against Burnley? Don’t bet on it.
Southampton were today’s big winners, leaping up to second in the table after dispatching Stoke 1-0 at St. Mary’s. Saido Mane recorded his first league goal off a broken play, firing his shot into the roof of the net past Asmir Begovic after Graziano Pelle’s initial shot was blocked. With Dusan Tadic pulling the strings, the Saints looked irresistible, and even a late flurry from Stoke would not change that equation.
With rumors swirling that Crystal Palace will be sold to Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris, Neil Warnock’s side turned on the style in the first half, only to be held in the second, settling for a 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
Brede Hangeland opened the scoring in the 15th minute, firing his own rebound past Ben Foster. Yannick Bolasie was then felled in the box to allow Mile Jedniak a chance from the spot which he converted. Palace went into the lockerroom a bit aggrieved, however: Wilfried Zaha has also been chopped down in the box and Mark Clattenburg simply blew the call.
Clattenburg’s decisions would hurt Palace dearly in the second half when Victor Anichebe scored on a play that keeper Julian Speroni cleaned out by Craig Dawson. Leading with his elbow, Dawson went up and caught Speroni on the jaw off a corner kick. With the keeper down, Anichebe headed in Chris Brunt’s corner. The goal should not have stood, but it did, and Speroni would have to come out with a clear concussion.
But Albion’s goal at the death was deserved, after Jedinak fouled Anichebe in the box, allowing Saido Berahino to score from the spot. Neil Warnock looked unconvinced, but that was the easiest call of the day.
Finally, Mario Balotelli endured another off night as Liverpool and Hull played to a dull 0-0 draw. Hull’s third string keeper Eldin Jakupovic was rarely tested in a game that never seemed to really get going. Balotelli had one shot well-saved at the near post, but his day was summed up when, deep in stoppage and with the goal gaping six yards away from him, he swung at and totally missed Philippe Coutinho’s cross.
How much longer Liverpool will persist with Balotelli is an open question as it is clear that experiment is not working as planned. But the Reds’ real woes stem from the fact that Daniel Sturridge remains out and they have not been able to replace the guile Luis Suarez brought them.