Robin van Persie gave Arsenal’s stuttering Premier League campaign a boost on Sunday by curling home a late free kick to earn the team a 2-1 victory over Sunderland.
The Netherlands striker added to the opener he scored for the north London club after just 29 seconds by stepping up in the 83rd minute to hit the winner with a sublime effort from 25 yards (meters) for his fifth goal of the season.
”He made the difference with his skill which was just exceptional,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. ”He is a special football player.”
Sweden winger Sebastian Larsson had equalized for Sunderland against his former club in the 31st minute with a free kick just as impressive as Van Persie’s but the struggling visitors couldn’t hold on, piling more pressure on under-fire manager Steve Bruce.
While Sunderland remained a place above the relegation zone, Arsenal’s third straight league victory at the Emirates – and fifth in all competitions – lifted it to 10th place in the table as Arsene Wenger’s team looks to rebound after a poor start to the season that included an 8-2 defeat at Manchester United.
The Gunners look as if they will invariably have to lean heavily on Van Persie, the team’s captain and attacking fulcrum, to have any chance of climbing back into the top four – where they have been habitually finished during Wenger’s 15-year reign.
The Dutchman’s first goal, which came when he ran onto Gervinho’s through-ball and fired a low shot into the corner, was the quickest in the Premier League in nearly four years.
”I guess it was my first touch,” Van Persie said. ”I was a bit surprised.”
And after taking the lead, Arsenal appeared ready to run away with the game as Van Persie chipped a superb angled shot back off the far post in the 12th minute before curling just wide from 25 yards (meters) soon after.
With Sunderland’s defense continuing to stand off, Gervinho fired over from a good position before the visitors finally got a foothold in the match.
Their goal came against the run of play after Mikel Arteta was penalized for handball, with Larsson stepping up to whip a shot into the top corner beyond the reach of Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to underline his status as one of the Premier League’s leading dead-ball specialists.
Szczesny then scrambled across his line to make a point-blank stop from Lee Cattermole’s close-range header in the 35th.
”I would be disappointed not to stick that in from three yards,” Bruce said. ”But it was a great save.”
Arsenal re-established its authority in the second half but failed to seriously test Sunderland ‘keeper Simon Mignolet, increasing the frustrations of the home crowd.
Russia forward Andrey Arshavin came close to putting Arsenal ahead after the substitute embarked on a run in the 73rd that took him past four players before poking his shot narrowly wide.
Van Persie, however, stepped up to rescue Arsenal with a late winner that showed how important he will be to the Gunners following the offseason departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
”Many people questioned his leadership qualities,” Wenger said of Van Persie, who is still to sign an extension to his contract that runs out in the summer of 2013. ”I believe he is totally committed to the cause.”