Black Cats count lucky stars

FA Premiership: Quinn strikes for Sunderland as Vieira is given marching orders
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The Independent Online

Arsenal have not won a League fixture on Wearside since August 1966, the opening match of the Bertie Mee era. Judging by the ill-fortune they suffered yesterday, they must be fated never to win another.

Arsenal have not won a League fixture on Wearside since August 1966, the opening match of the Bertie Mee era. Judging by the ill-fortune they suffered yesterday, they must be fated never to win another.

"I've not lost a game in England like that," Arsÿne Wenger lamented after watching his team outclass Sunderland yet end up point-less on the Premiership's opening day. The Gunners fired a flurry of blanks in front of goal and hit the target in just the one respect, Patrick Vieira drawing a red card from the referee Steve Dunn in the final minute for striking Darren Williams with a forearm smash.

To compound Arsenal's frustration, the winning blow was delivered by a Highbury old boy, Niall Quinn heading what proved to be the only goal of a game watched by a record 46,346 crowd in the extended Stadium of Light. The locals went home happy, but not Wenger. The Arsenal manager departed with all guns blazing, aiming verbal broadsides at the referee and at Williams, who was tugging back Vieira before the French midfielder's short fuse ignited.

"Maybe Vieira should not have had the reaction," Wenger said, "but I would have sent off the other player first, for pulling his shirt repeatedly. Their player stayed down for two minutes, because they were 1-0 up and to get Patrick sent off." Not that Williams' manager saw it quite the same way. "Mr Wenger's an intelligent man," Peter Reid said of his opposite number. "He's entitled to his opinion. I just think it's a load of crap."

A similar assessment could have been justifiably made about Arsenal's form in front of goal. Even with Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp held in reserve until deep into the second half, they ought to have buried Sunderland before the break. Kevin Phillips received the Premiership Golden Boot award before kick-off for topping the scoring charts last season but it was the size 15s of Nwankwo Kanu that sparkled to greatest effect, despite Darren Holloway being deployed as a nominal marker of the elusive Nigerian.

Before the first minute was out, Kanu had left the England Under-21 international chasing his shadow as he jinked free on the right and delivered a cross that might have prompted the opening goal if Thierry Henry had met it with a firmer header. Kanu did not need to make contact with the ball to open up the home guard in the 10th minute. His sublime dummy, and Henry's deft flick, allowed Fredrik Ljungberg to despatch a low drive from the left edge of the area that was only partially blocked by Thomas Sorensen and was cleared from the Sunderland goalmouth by the highly impressive Stanislav Varga.

The towering Slovakian captain lent an assured presence to the heart of an otherwise jittery defence. An £875,000 signing from Slovan Bratislava, Varga might have been joined on the Sunderland staff in the summer by Ray Parlour. Arsenal turned down a £5m bid from Reid but it was Parlour who was doing the spurning yesterday, scuffing wide a shot from point-blank range and then blasting the ball high with the goal at his mercy after Sorensen parried a Vieira drive.

Sunderland - missing the suspended Don Hutchinson and Alex Rae - were fortunate in the extreme to reach half-time on level terms, Sorensen saving impressively from Ljungberg and Henry just before the interval, but their Danish goalkeeper failed to reappear for the second-half, giving the locals their first sight of Macho man in action. Not that Jürgen Macho, an Austrian Under-21 international, had an opportunity to touch the ball before Sunderland struck at the other end, Michael Gray hoisting a cross from wide on the left and Quinn, unmarked on the six-yard line, planting a header past a hesitant David Seaman.

Arsenal still had enough chances to win with ease but they all went begging: Henry heading wide, Kanu curling a shot off target and Macho blocking goal-bound efforts from Henry and Pires, who was introduced in the 66th minute as a replacement for Ljungberg. At the other end Phillips hardly had a sniff, though on this occasion his Midas touch was not required as the Black Cats rode their luck to victory.

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