Van Persie shines to sink Cats

The Holland striker, who used his programme notes to declare his

full commitment to Arsenal, put the hosts ahead after just 29

seconds but the sides went in level at half-time thanks to an

excellent free-kick from former Gunner Sebastian Larsson. The game

appeared destined for a draw as Arsenal proceeded to squander

several good second-half chances, but van Persie spared the

Londoners’ blushes with a wonderful curling free-kick nine minutes

from time. The win gave Arsenal the perfect tonic after their north

London derby defeat two weeks ago, but the creaky manner in which

they snuck past struggling Sunderland will do little to silence the

doubters who claim the Gunners are a spent force. Under-pressure

Black Cats boss Steve Bruce, meanwhile, will rue his side’s failure

to convert a number of first-half opportunities and they now sit

outside the drop zone only on goal difference. Keen to make up for

their loss at White Hart Lane, Arsenal flew out of the blocks and

took an early lead. Some Arsenal fans had still not taken their

seats by the time that Gervinho got on the end of Tomas Rosicky’s

lobbed pass and squared to van Persie, who took one touch before

drilling low past Simon Mignolet from 18 yards to record the

fastest top-flight goal of the season so far. The strike stunned

the Black Cats and they remained on the back foot for the rest of

the opening half hour. This was the Arsenal of old. Confident in

possession and sturdy at the back, they pushed for a second as the

away side struggled to get a touch on the ball. Van Persie was then

denied an early contender for goal of the season by the woodwork.

With 13 minutes on the clock, the Dutchman spun his marker on the

edge of the box and clipped a delightful chip that sailed over

Mignolet but bounced out off the post and Gervinho just missed out

on the tap-in. Full of confidence, van Persie then flashed a

powerful 20-yard drive just wide. Gervinho was also in his pomp.

The Ivory Coast man cut inside from the left flank with a clever

turn and crashed a fierce shot just over. Wojciech Szczesny then

went walkabout, handing Sessegnon a glorious chance to equalise,

but the winger’s cross was cut out by Alex Song as the Arsenal goal

lay unguarded. Arsenal’s confidence was knocked and Sunderland

shocked the home crowd with a stunning equaliser from Larsson.

Mikel Arteta’s handball gave the Black Cats a free-kick 20 yards

out and Larsson whipped a delightful curling shot over the wall and

past a sprawling Szczesny to make it 1-1. The strike was so good

that Rosicky had already started walking to the halfway line

without turning his back to see if the shot had gone in. Szczesny

denied Sunderland the lead moments later when he blocked Lee

Cattermole’s header from six yards after an error from Carl

Jenkinson allowed Sessegnon to break down the left. The game became

scrappy at the start of the second half. David Vaughan earned the

first booking of the game with a cynical two-footed sliding tackle

on Rosicky and he was soon followed in to the book by Larsson, who

tugged Van Persie’s shirt. Tensions mounted as Alex Song was booked

for a foul on Sessegnon and then John O’Shea upended Rosicky on the

edge of the box, giving Arsenal a dangerous free-kick which Arteta

duly ploughed in to the stands. Brown was lucky to escape with a

booking after clattering into Walcott in a similar position minutes

later. The England winger picked himself up to take the free-kick

but the home fans groaned collectively as, again, the set-piece

flew well over. Howard Webb produced his fifth yellow card of the

game after Laurent Koscielny body-checked Sessegnon before Mignolet

kept Van Persie’s near-post effort out with his feet as Arsenal

increased the pressure on the visitors. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger

looked despondent on the bench as Alex Song then broke into the box

and inexplicably passed to a Sunderland defender with time running

out. A moment of brilliance from substitute Andrey Arshavin almost

gave Arsenal the lead with just under 20 minutes left. The Russian

danced past two Sunderland defenders into the box and nutmegged

Michael Turner with a shot that went a yard wide of Mignolet’s

goal. Brown’s clumsy challenge on van Persie gave Arsenal another

free-kick on the edge of the box with nine minutes left. The

Holland international succeeded where his team-mates had failed

before him by curling a brilliant set-piece into the top corner and

then removing his shirt in a jubilant celebration. Ji Dong-won was

then played in to the box by Connor Wickham and slotted past

Szczesny but his effort was rightly ruled out for offside.

Sunderland pushed for a second equaliser towards the end, but it

never came and Wenger’s side took the spoils after another nervy