By Josh James at Emirates Stadium
Olivier Giroud scored at both ends, and Aaron Ramsey scored a late third, as Arsenal reignited their title challenge with a hard-fought win over Sunderland. The Gunners were far from their best against an obdurate Black Cats side, but Giroud's second-half header put them 2-1 up and Ramsey sealed the points in injury time to lift Arsenal to second in the table. Joel Campbell had earlier given Arsenal the lead, finishing well after running onto Mesut Ozil's perfect throughball. It was Ozil's 12th Premier League assist of a stellar campaign so far. On the stroke of half-time Sunderland hit back when Olivier Giroud got his attempted clearance all wrong, slicing Yann M'Vila's free-kick into the roof of his own net.
Arsène Wenger's men persevered though, and earned their reward in the second half, ending a run of three Premier League games without victory.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger admitted this week that he was glad to see the back of November – a month in which Arsenal lost seven points as well as four key players to injury. But as December began, the Gunners found themselves still just two points off the top of the table, and were boosted pre-kick off by the news of Manchester City's defeat at Stoke. There was further reason for optimism with the inclusion of Theo Walcott in the squad for the first time since picking up an injury against Sheffield Wednesday in October, while Laurent Koscielny also shook off his knock against Norwich to retain his place. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Campbell were the two to come in for Alexis and Santi Cazorla, meaning Aaron Ramsey could move into his favoured central midfield position. Sunderland were without Jermain Defoe, but included Duncan Watmore, Steven Fletcher, Ola Toivonen and Fabio Borini in an adventurous looking line-up. But it's Sam Allardyce's defence which has impressed lately, having kept clean sheets in their past two games. And with four goalless draws in the past seven Premier League encounters between the sides at Emirates Stadium, Arsenal knew they would have to be patient against the resurgent Black Cats.
It was a sluggish opening 20 minutes from the Gunners on a grey afternoon in north London. The visitors had the first clear sight of goal, after just five minutes, and what a chance it was. Borini sprung the offside trap to race away on goal, but his low finish was comfortably dealt with by Petr Cech. At the other end Ramsey flashed a long-range shot wide but Sunderland were showing they had plenty of attacking intentions of their own. First Watmore steered a close-range header just over, then Cech had to be alert to save low down from Borini. Arsenal began to see more of the ball after a tentative start, and Oxlade-Chamberlain switched wings with Campbell in an attempt to find a way through the Sunderland back five. The Gunners needed a creative spark from somewhere though, and it should come as no surprise that it was Ozil who supplied it. Just after the half hour he picked up possession outside the area and slid a trademark inch-perfect pass into the feet of the advancing Campbell. The Costa Rican finished coolly first time past Costel Pantilimon to put Arsenal ahead. It looked to have settled the hosts, but right on the stroke of half-time Sunderland levelled when Giroud put through his own net. Laurent Koscielny gave away a free-kick near the left touchline, Yann M'Vila swung the ball in and Giroud horribly sliced his near post clearance past Cech. Ramsey nearly restored the advantage in injury time, but his drive was just off target.
Sunderland continued to frustrate Arsenal early in the second half, keeping plenty of men back and looking to counter whenever possible. Just before the hour mark Fletcher's low drive from 20 yards was turned round the post by Cech at full-stretch. From the following corner Cech made a fantastic point-blank stop to keep out Fletcher at the far post. It felt like a valuable save, and moments later its value was amplified. Ramsey looked up on the edge of the area and curled a delicious cross towards Giroud, who stooped at the near post to divert the ball home. Walcott was already being readied on the sideline, and he came on to replace Oxlade-Chamberlain with Arsenal now back in front. His introduction, coupled with Giroud's goal, served to raise the tempo in Arsenal's attacking play. Walcott himself curled an effort wide and Giroud had another effort blocked. Sunderland underlined their danger going forward when the lively Watmore got behind the defence, only to mishit his shot straight at Cech. There were a few jitters in the Arsenal defence late on, no more so than when Patrick Van Aanholt fired just over when well placed two minutes from time. As the fourth official signaled five additional minutes, Aaron Ramsey missed a great chance to make the game safe, shooting straight at Pantilimon when set up by Ozil. Two minutes later though, he made no mistake, bundling home after Calum Chambers' shot was charged down. Game over.
Referee: Robert Madley
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