Gunners fail test of killer instinct as alarm sounds over title hopes

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 1

Mid-September may seem a little early for defining points in a Premier League season that is always a long haul, but with a little over quarter of an hour remaining at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, Arsenal showed exactly why they can again be written off as serious title contenders.

That may sound harsh on a side who coped admirably with a numerical disadvantage for almost half this compelling contest to maintain an unbeaten start to a campaign in which they have already plundered 20 goals. It may seem equally incongruous that the point at which their hopes of ending the hegemony of Chelsea and Manchester United should be written off arrived as they prepared to take a late penalty that would have given them an unassailable two-goal lead at a venue from which only United have returned with three points in the last 10 months.

The problem, and a rather major one at that, was that no one wanted to take the penalty. The lack of killer instinct that will again see them come up short in the title stakes this season was laid bare. With regular takers either injured or already substituted, there followed an uncomfortable hiatus as the Arsenal players looked around at each other to take responsibility for the spot-kick in the wake of Ahmed Elmohamady's foul on Samir Nasri. "When they got the penalty, no one really wanted to take it," said Steed Malbranque, the Sunderland midfielder. "Normally in big teams you'd have a few leaders and someone there to kill off the match."

Finally, up stepped Tomas Rosicky, on for the hamstrung Cesc Fabregas. For that he deserves credit, but none further is due to the substitute for what subsequently came to pass. The penalty was skied high and wide and Sunderland went on to equalise in the fifth minute of stoppage time after a minimum of four to be played had been shown.

Presumably the extra 15 seconds that allowed Darren Bent to score against the side he supported as a boy – the additional time that so upset the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, that he had to fend off suggestions he had confronted the fourth official Martin Atkinson over the timekeeping – was due to the time it took to fish Rosicky's awful spot-kick from the stunned Arsenal supporters behind Simon Mignolet's goal.

"I didn't expect Rosicky to take it, I expected Nasri to take it," Wenger conceded afterwards. "It was the deciding moment of the game." Not just the game, more like Arsenal's entire season. Having been reduced to 10 men shortly after the interval following Alex Song's departure for a second needless yellow card, a point, even given its circumstances, is not to be sniffed at, considering the stiff proposition Sunderland have become on home soil.

But that is just two points from their last three visits to a venue where United and Chelsea both secured comfortable victories on their most recent visits. Things looked different when Fabregas sent Anton Ferdinand's clearance back with interest to register a freak goal from 40 yards, a significant contribution before his enforced early exit. However, Song's departure saw a momentum shift the visitors were unable to halt when Bent buried his sixth goal this season for club and country from close range as Arsenal's luck ran out at the death.

"I thought we were going to hold on, so it's two points dropped," admitted the Arsenal midfielder Denilson. Despite the spurned opportunity to leapfrog Chelsea at the summit of the Premier League, even for less than 24 hours, and in so doing strike a psychological blow, Denilson added: "We're in a strong position and we have a trophy in us this season. Sunderland ask you a lot of questions and you can't say we won't win the title just because of one result. We can still win the Premier League this season."

Steve Bruce does not necessarily concur. "Whether they're going to knock Chelsea or Manchester United off their perch is debatable," the Sunderland manager said. "At the moment Chelsea look unbeatable."

Jordan Henderson again stood out in midfield for the hosts, who gave further indication with their fightback that they are ready to fulfil their aim of regularly breaking into the Premier League's top 10. "A couple of years ago we might have crumbled after their freak goal but it shows our character that we came back," Bent insisted. "It was probably the best performance during my time here."

Match facts

Sunderland 4-5-1: Mignolet; Onuoha (Zenden, 77), Bramble, Ferdinand, Richardson; Henderson, Elmohamady, Riveros (Gyan, 64), Malbranque (Reid, 86), Welbeck; Bent Substitutes not used Carson (gk), Bardsley, Colback, Da Silva

Booked Riveros, Malbranque, Welbeck.

Arsenal 4-3-3 Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Song, Fabregas (Rosicky, 29), Wilshere; Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin (Denilson, 58) Substitutes not used Fabianski (gk), Gibbs, Djourou, Eboué, Vela

Booked Wilshere. Sent off Song (55).

Referee P Dowd (Staffs). Attendance 38,950.

Man of the match Henderson.

Possession Sunderland 48% Arsenal 52%.

Shots on target Sunderland 5 Arsenal 7.

Match rating 8/10.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?