Bent's lucky strike leaves Wenger to rue bad break

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 0

The temptation would be to see this as fitting the classic template of Arsenal taking their pretty-pretty brand of football to the frozen north, and discovering once again that they don't like it up 'em, but that is to do a disservice to both Arsenal and, particularly, Sunderland.

With Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Song there is a greater steel to this Arsenal than in previous seasons, while Sunderland's bustle should not disguise their quality. Perhaps they lacked something in the way of immediate threat yesterday, but they were combative, disciplined, maintained possession well, and more than matched Arsenal in midfield.

If there was a stroke of luck to their goal, Darren Bent's wayward header cannoning back off Fraizer Campbell's shins before he swept it in, they deserved it for the way they controlled midfield, particularly in the second half. "To beat Arsenal you've always got to play well," said Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager. "It's not one of them lucky ones. It wasn't the case that Arsenal missed chance after chance. They're so fluid in midfield, but defensively as a team we set out our gameplan. We've played well of late, and we've got our reward today for sticking at it."

Although they have a game in hand, Arsenal now lie eight points behind the leaders, Chelsea; the match between the two at the Emirates next Sunday could break their season. Arsène Wenger blamed the international break for their failure to extend their run of 13 games without defeat. "It's very difficult when you play away from home after a break," he said. "If we had played Sunderland at home we would have beaten them today." The Arsenal manager was referring to Andrey Arshavin, who only came on for half an hour after his exertions with Russia.

It would be easy to blame Arsenal's relative toothlessness on the absence of Robin van Persie, but Wenger saw it otherwise. "Going forward we lacked sharpness, the desire to go behind defenders. In football, if you want to score goals you have to go behind defenders. I don't think we missed anybody especially. We can only fault ourselves because we didn't score, some players were not at their best. We gave a goal away from the only occasion from which Sunderland could score – a set-piece."

There is some truth to that, but perhaps also a little churlishness, for it wasn't as though Arsenal were peppering the Sunderland goal.

Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey both had snap shots that flew straight at Marton Fulop, and a couple of late crosses flashed across the face of goal, but that aside, Arsenal's only real threat was a half-appeal for an injury-time penalty as Carlos Vela stumbled over Campbell's challenge. "It's difficult for us to get penalties, even the most obvious ones," said Wenger. This was not anything close to an obvious one.

Sunderland very nearly added a second in injury time, as Bent worked an opening for Bolo Zenden, and Campbell drew a smart save from Manuel Almunia from his low cross. This, though, was a victory won in midfield. Lorik Cana, back after suspension, was magnificent, and as if one hard man who can pass isn't enough, Paulo da Silva has shown over the past two League games why he is a fixture in the Paraguay national team.

With his stooped gait and corrugated forehead, he is a player who radiates concentration, and it is for that reason he has surely moved ahead of Anton Ferdinand in Sunderland's pecking order. "My experience with all South Americans is that it takes time to adapt and adjust," added Bruce. "He's never rash, always calm."

Bruce's reward was a clean sheet against a team who have scored in every game since April. The result was more Sunderland achievement than Arsenal disappointment.

Attendance: 44,918

Referee: Alan Wiley

Man of the match: Cana

Match rating: 7/10