By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal endured a frustrating start to the new Premier League season on Saturday at Emirates Stadium.
Despite incessant pressure, Sunderland kept Arsène Wenger’s side at bay throughout this lively encounter and escaped with a goalless draw.
The home side dominated in terms of possession, territory and chances. Led by the impish skills of Santi Cazorla, Arsenal took control midway through the first half and never really let it go.
The Spaniard stung the hands of Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet in the opening stages and, eight minutes from time, substitute Olivier Giroud slashed a shot wide after being set up by Arsenal’s stand-out player.
Although the home side did not create chances commensurate with their control of the game, Wojciech Szczesny was a spectator for the final hour.
A decent performance but a half-decent result. Given the changes that have taken place this summer, Arsenal need to be afforded a little patience.
This display suggests there is much, much more to come.
The first game of the season is always a special affair. And this was no different. Despite the departure of Robin van Persie, there was a sense of genuine excitement around the Club given the quality of the new arrivals - and all three were involved this afternoon.
Cazorla and Lukas Podolski were Arsenal’s attacking centre – the Spaniard just behind the German. Giroud began on the bench.
New captain Thomas Vermaelen was partnered at centre half by Per Mertesacker, who returned after picking up a season-ending injury at the Stadium of Light back in February.
London had barely got the Olympics out of its system but football remains the beating heart of this city and, despite some issues, its most prestigious club seemed to be on the rise again.
The sun that had returned to the English capital for the Games had gained in intensity after that the famous flame had been extinguished. You needed sunblock and sunglasses at Emirates this afternoon. Optimism came as standard.
The opening exchanges were full of nervous energy. James McClean burst though but his drive was blocked by the legs of Szczesny. Cazorla then strode forward and forced Mignolet into a flying save with a fierce drive from outside the area.
Arsenal were dominating territorially but Sunderland were giving as good as they got. Jack Colback squeezed through a shot that Szczesny saved at the second attempt.
However, Arsenal and Cazorla in particular, were starting to purr. In the 19th minute, he started and ended a sweeping move that saw the Spaniard fire inches wide.
Then Theo Walcott and Podolski had a stab at converting Carl Jenkinson’s low cross. Shortly after that, Abou Diaby’s trickling shot was turned aside by the stretching Mignolet.
It went on like that until the break; the home side on the attack, Sunderland on the retreat.
By the end, Arsenal had enjoyed almost three-quarters of the possession and after the restart they would be even more dominant.
They pressed and pushed Sunderland into their own penalty area. Gervinho was particularly probing down the left-hand side. He set up Podolski in the 51st minute and found Kieran Gibbs in the danger zone soon afterwards.
The German curled a free-kick just over the bar before being replaced by Giroud shortly before the hour. Aaron Ramsey came on for Diaby soon after.
The personnel had changed but the trend was the same. Sunderland’s attacking ambition was minimal, Arsenal just had to break them down.
Just after Giroud scooped his shot over the bar from Jenkinson’s cross, Andrey Arshavin came on.
And, with eight minutes left, the Frenchman had a chance – a big one.
Carzorla slipped him clean through but Giroud snatched at the opportunity and sliced it wide.
It only added to the anxiety and then the determination to make amends.
However, Arsenal had run out of steam and could not create a crescendo.
This was a tame start to the new season but, in his pre-match press conference, Wenger had suggested his side were not at their physical optimism.
And, on the evidence of today, the potential is obvious.
Referee: Chris Foy
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