Arsenal survived a man disadvantage and intense late pressure from Sunderland to claim their second-straight 1-0 victory in the Premier League.
The only goal of the game at the Stadium of Light came from Santi Cazorla’s first-half strike but Arsenal missed a number of chances to seal the three points. When the influential Jack Wilshere was forced off injured early in the second period and then Carl Jenkinson was shown his second yellow card, Sunderland turned the game in their favor. Steven Fletcher had several opportunities to grab a point for the home side, but was repeatedly denied by Wojciech Szczesny.
It could be a crucial win for Arsenal, who remain four points behind rivals Tottenham in the battle for a Champions League place.
It was a fairly even opening to the match with Sunderland and, in particular Lee Cattermole, trying to impose themselves on their opponents.
But gradually Arsenal began to gain the upper hand, with Aaron Ramsey going close with a deflected shot that was well saved by Simon Mignolet.
After the effusive praise brought on by his performance for England against Brazil in midweek, Wilshere continued to show why he is rated so highly. The midfielder began to consistently drive Arsenal forward and push Sunderland back. There was a little surprise that it was one of his typical surges through the middle that led to the visitors opening the scoring.
A mixture of strength and skill kept the Sunderland challenges at bay as Wilshere moved toward the edge of the Sunderland area before laying it off to his left to Cazorla who drove a fine low effort past Mignolet with his left foot.
Wilshere almost created another opportunity minutes later as he put a fine low ball across the box that just failed to get a touch to turn the ball into the net.
In truth, Arsenal will feel that they should have been further ahead by the break. Theo Walcott twice went close first driving wide from the edge of the box and then volleying straight at Mignolet. The best chance, though, fell to Ramsey.
The Welshman, who did not have the best of days, could only shoot straight at Mignolet after the ball deflected into his path six yards from goal from Giroud’s pass.
Arsenal looked like they could regret those missed opportunities as events at the start of the second half helped turn the tide in Sunderland’s favor. Just five minutes after the break, the game’s most influential figure, Wilshere, was forced off with an injury.
Sunderland almost immediately went on the front foot. Stephan Sessegnon robbed Ramsey in midfield and surged forward before laying in Steven Fletcher, who fired poorly wide of the near post.
Sunderland got an even bigger boost when Arsenal were reduced to 10 men with Carl Jenkinson receiving his second yellow card for a late tackle on Sessegnon.
The match was firmly in the balance, although Arsenal were still posing plenty of for their opponents. Cazorla went close with a shot across goal before he created a golden opportunity for Walcott to make the result safe. The Spaniard played a scintillating ball through two Sunderland defenders but Walcott could only strike the post when he should have found the net.
In the end, Arsenal were left grateful to their goalkeeper for leaving the North East with three points. His first of several outstanding late saves from Fletcher came as the Scotland international closed down Mertesacker’s clearance, with what looked suspiciously like a handball, but he was allowed to continue and it was only a fine save by the legs of Szczesny that kept Arsenal ahead.
There was even better to come from the young Pole. First Szczesny produced a wonderful reaction save to turn Fletcher’s header over the bar and then from resulting corner did enough to palm the ball away from the Sunderland striker before Titus Bramble somehow put his effort wide.
That was to be the last chance for Sunderland as Arsenal held on, despite Mignolet’s efforts in the opposition area in the dying seconds.