FA Cup holders Arsenal hit back to see off Sunderland

BY Jamie Trecker • January 9, 2016

Arsenal began their FA Cup title defense Saturday with a 3-1 win over struggling Sunderland at the Emirates, with Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Joel Campbell providing the goals for the Gunners. Arsenal now await their opponent in the fourth round after an eventful round of FA Cup ties that saw Liverpool and Aston Villa sent to replays. 

This was not as much of a rout as the final scoreline suggests. In fact, both sides fielded weakened squads, with Arsenal giving Mesut Ozil a rest and Sam Allardyce keeping some powder dry for what looks to be a prolonged battle against relegation. And for much of the first half the game reflected those reduced circumstances. Arsenal had more of the ball but did less with it with Ozil and the injured Santi Cazorla absent; Sunderland put on a lot of huff and puff, but only midfielder Duncan Watmore really looked like a man playing for a spot with this team.

Kieran Gibbs tested debutant keeper Jordan Pickford quite early, nearly giving Arsenal the lead after 8 minutes with a smart snap-shot to the near post after fine work from Giroud. Pickford, in for the much-maligned Vito Mannone, was flawless on the stop and indeed, for much of the first half.

But for all of Arsenal's possession, it was a classic error in the back that allowed the Black Cats to get on the board first. Laurent Koscielny needlessly dallied on a ball at the edge of the area, and then coughed it up to Jeremain Lens, who buried it at Petr Cech's near post.

Arsenal came right back, with Alex Iwobi the creator. He would first have a shot stifled at the near post in the 19th minute, then play a good ball out wide to Theo Walcott in the 26th that was popped over and through a dreadful Sunderland defense to find Campbell waiting with time and space at the penalty spot. The Costa Rican buried it with the Black Cats standing and watching.

The rest of the half settled into a midfield battle, with neither keeper really being tested again. But after the break, Arsenal were sharply on the front foot, with the Black Cats increasingly being forced back into their own penalty area. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went close to breaking the deadlock in the 56th minute when he carved out a yard of space at the edge of the area and popped a curling shot that ricocheted back off the far post.

That saw a quickening of the pace, with American DeAndre Yedlin finally shaking off the shackles to deliver in a good cross to the unmarked Steven Fletcher, but the Scot's header came back off the crossbar. Campbell and Oxlade-Chamberlain swiftly went down the other end of the field, forcing a yeoman stop out of Pickford with the net gaping.

Sub Ramsey finally pushed Arsenal in front with a little tap-in in the 72nd minute. Taking the feed from Hector Bellerin down the right flank, Ramsey had an easy task at the near post, just opening his body up to redirect the ball in past Pickford. It was a superb team goal with Campbell and Bellerin linking up well to outfox the Black Cats wide.

Giroud then iced the game three minutes later, beating a napping Yedlin to a ball from Bellerin for another easy goal. Yedlin, who endured a torrid night, might also have been sent off with 12 to play after a bad tackle on Giroud in the box. The defender clearly took out the striker, but referee Martin Atkinson, with full view of the incident, bafflingly waved away the appeals for the penalty.

Arsenal might have grabbed a fourth if not for a fine stop by Pickford with seven to play, swatting away a bullet header from Giroud.

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