Sunderland 1-1 Arsenal
Fabregas struck late to prevent Arsenal suffering another defeat
Cesc Fabregas scored a late header to rescue a disappointing Arsenal after Grant Leadbitter’s stunning drive had appeared to hand Sunderland victory.
Djibril Cisse was twice denied by Manuel Almunia in a low-quality first half that had very few chances.
Robin van Persie’s volley was superbly saved by Craig Gordon before Sunderland went ahead when Leadbitter’s cracking 20-yard shot crashed in off the bar.
But Fabregas nodded in Van Persie’s corner to salvage a point for Arsenal.
It is the second consecutive weekend that Arsenal have failed to win and claim the top spot in the Premier League – and there must now be huge concerns about their title aspirations.
The Gunners’ shock loss to Hull last weekend was supposedly out of their system after they thrashed Porto in midweek.
But from the start the visitors looked short of ideas, while Sunderland had a keen determination about them.
And Roy Keane’s men had the first chance following a lapse in concentration from Theo Walcott.
The young winger blindly played the ball back towards his own goal and Cisse was only denied a shot by the onrushing Almunia, who blocked at the striker’s feet.
Sunderland had nearly got in before that, when Dean Whitehead almost latched on to Steed Malbranque’s fine pass but Kolo Toure slid in with a well-timed tackle.
The hosts’ strategy was already clear – get numbers behind the ball and try to break quickly when the opportunity arose. And they were doing it well.
Arsenal had all the possession but were delaying their passes too long and there was a lethargy about their general play.
Their only efforts were an off-target header from Alex Song, who was starting in place of Samir Nasri, and long-range shots from Denilson, Walcott and Fabregas.
It was Cisse who had the best effort of a low-grade first half when he hit a rising drive that Almunia was forced to tip over the bar.
Soon after the break Arsenal thought they had opened the scoring, but Van Persie’s effort was ruled out as Walcott’s cross was judged to have gone out of play for a goal kick.
Surprisingly, it did not have the effect of stirring Arsenal into action, and they continued to play into Sunderland’s hands.
Adebayor had a shot that Gordon spilled, but the danger was quickly cleared, while at the other end, Kieran Richardson shot straight at Almunia and Andy Reid did the same with a free-kick.
However, most of the match continued to be played in the Sunderland half.
And Arsenal fashioned a great chance came when Nicklas Bendtner dinked the ball over the top for Van Persie to volley, but Gordon produced a fine reflex save to deny the Dutchman.
Then Sunderland came up with a moment of brilliance as Leadbitter picked up the ball just outside the box and struck a magnificent shot into the top corner, in off the underside of the bar.
That seemed to have won it for Sunderland but there was still time for a final twist as Fabregas managed to rise highest at the near post to head in Van Persie’s corner.
Sunderland boss Roy Keane:
“I am pretty sure if I had different players available, we might have been a bit more attack-minded.
“But I have to look at the squad of players I have available to me and for today, that was a good option for us. We have to get the balance right.
“The bottom line for any of these top teams, they will tell you, part of the game is breaking down the opposition.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger:
“Sunderland tried just to defend for 90 minutes, playing the whole game with 10 men behind the ball.
“It was attack versus defence in one half of the pitch and we were not sharp enough to make the difference.
“We tried to go for it from the first minute to the last minute. It is amazing to see the difference in possession between the teams.”
Sunderland: Gordon, Chimbonda, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Malbranque (Chopra 87), Whitehead, Yorke (Leadbitter 84), Reid, Richardson, Cisse (Murphy 88).
Subs Not Used: Fulop, Bardsley, Diouf, Healy.
Booked: Whitehead, Richardson, Yorke.
Goals: Leadbitter 86.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Walcott (Bendtner 66), Denilson (Nasri 73), Fabregas, Song Billong (Vela 87), Van Persie, Adebayor.
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Silvestre, Djourou, Eboue.
Booked: Clichy, Toure, Adebayor, Bendtner.
Goals: Fabregas 90.
Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas on 7.18 (on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport’s Player Rater after the match has finished.