Premier League – Sunderland draw dents Arsenal title bid
Andrei Arshavin was twice crucially denied by the officials as referee Anthony Taylor did not award him a penalty before the Russian had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside.
The Gunners went into this match in the knowledge that winning each of their remaining 11 league games would guarantee them the title, but this draw now hands the initiative back to leaders Manchester United, who travel to Liverpool on Sunday.
With Robin van Persie joining the Gunners’ list of injuries to key personnel following last Sunday’s Carling Cup final defeat, Samir Nasri captained the Gunners while Nicklas Bendtner kept his place up front following his FA Cup hat-trick in midweek.
Arsenal struggled to break down a hard-working Sunderland early on, and indeed the visitors had their own chances to go in front.
Phil Bardsley fired wide after a corner was hurriedly half-cleared, before Bacary Sagna gave possession away cheaply to fellow Frenchman Stephane Sessegnon, who surged forward past Gael Clichy and stung the palms of Wojciech Szczesny.
The Gunners soon began to assert their authority, with Clichy offering plenty of width on the left-hand side as Arshavin was given licence to roam.
Clichy’s dangerous low ball across the box flashed between Bendtner and Mignolet before Nasri’s follow-up effort was tame and caught by the Belgian goalkeeper.
Nasri’s mesmeric slaloming run into the box yielded a corner from which Bendtner’s overhead kick was struck right at Mignolet, and the Dane was again denied when his crisp volley from an angle was tipped over the bar by the keeper, recalled to the side in place of the injured Craig Gordon.
With the Gunners still struggling to get in behind the visitors’ backline after the break, Marouane Chamkah was introduced on the hour mark and almost had an instant impact when his pulled back pass was met by Arshavin, whose effort was parried by Mignolet.
The Moroccan then came agonisingly close to scoring himself when, after Mignolet had saved a Nasri free-kick, he headed Jack Wilshere‘s cross on to the crossbar.
Inevitably Arsenal began to lay siege to the Sunderland goal and should have had a penalty 10 minutes from time when Arshavin latched on to Nasri’s weighted through ball, only to fire wide after the stumbling Titus Bramble had clearly shoved him in the back.
Soon afterwards the Russian was again dismayed when he beat the Sunderland offside trap to finish past Mignolet one-on-one and wheel away in celebration, only to see the raised flag of the referee’s assistant .
Danny Welbeck came off the Sunderland bench after a lengthy spell out injured, and he almost compounded Arsenal’s misery when his exceptional control and swivelling shot were only denied a goal by Szczesny’s splendid low save.
In the five minutes of allocated stoppage time Bendtner had a tame header gathered by Mignolet and Koscielny glanced another header wide, but they could not find a late winner.
Registering their seventh clean sheet from their last nine league games will be of little comfort to Arsenal as they anxiously await the result from Anfield before setting off for Barcelona.
Tony Mabert / Eurosport