Sunday, February 25, 2024

Fabregas rescues Arsenal

: Cesc Fabregas claimed a vital injury-time equaliser as Arsenal escaped with a point from a dramatic 1-1 draw at Sunderland on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger’s side appeared to be heading for back-to-back league defeats for the first time in 18 months when substitute Grant Leadbitter broke the deadlock with a stunning 86th-minute strike.
But Arsenal showed a never-say-die spirit which was rewarded in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time as Fabregas stole in through a crowd of players at the near post to head home Robin van Persie’s corner.
Despite the late heroics from Fabregas, Arsenal will see this as a missed opportunity to go top as they dropped more valuable points against lesser opponents following last week’s setback against Hull.
To make matters worse, the north London club was denied what appeared to be a perfectly good second-half goal as their seven-game league winning streak against the Wearsiders was brought to a halt.
Van Persie looked to have finally broken the deadlock when he swept home an inviting cut-back from Theo Walcott 11 minutes after the break as the visitors enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure against their hard-working hosts.
But the Dutch international’s joy was short-lived as the referee’s assistant ruled that England international Walcott had taken the ball over the byline before crossing as he tussled for the ball with Northern Ireland defender George McCartney.
Initial television replays proved inconclusive but to their credit the Arsenal players didn’t make a big issue out of the incident, which took on even greater significance as substitute Leadbitter held off Alexandre Song to fire a thunderous shot home from 25 yards off the underside of the bar.
Wearside-born Leadbitter had only been on the pitch for two minutes, and his joy was unconfined as the homegrown talent celebrated what he thought was the winning goal.
This was Sunderland’s first point against any of the Premier League ‘big four’ since they returned to the top flight 14 months ago, and they fully deserved a share of the spoils for their endeavours.
But Arsenal, who saw Craig Gordon brilliantly beat out a late van Persie effort, will see this as two points dropped and a failure to steal a match on their rivals, most of who play on Sunday.
The late drama was in stark contrast to a largely pedestrian first-half. Manuel Almunia was the busier of the goalkeepers in a scrappy opening as the Spaniard made two fine saves in as many minutes to thwart Djibril Cisse midway through the opening period.
Almunia blocked a shot from a narrow angle after the Sunderland striker had been put through on goal by a mistake from Walcott, before shortly afterwards he tipped over a fierce shot from 20 yards as Cisse attempted to break the deadlock in spectacular style.
Despite enjoying long spells of possession, other than a speculative long-range effort from Fabregas which was easily held by Gordon, it took until approaching first-half stoppage time for Arsenal to pose a serious threat to the Sunderland goal.
The opportunity arrived courtesy of a slick three-man passing move involving Fabregas, Walcott and Bacary Sagna to carve out an opening for Denilson, whose low shot from the edge of the area sped narrowly wide.
That was the calm before the storm as Leadbitter and Fabregas traded goals in the sensational finale.

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