Sunderland 0 Arsenal 3: Wenger furious as wild tackle cuts down Diaby

Arsenal administered an effortless execution of Sunderland but Arsène Wenger's team were the ones left feeling like victims. Sunderland's physicality built up as the game progressed and culminated in a studs-up lunge from Dan Smith on Abou Diaby which left the Arsenal midfielder with an ankle injury that is set to rule him out of the European Cup final.

"It was a bad kick and an unneeded one," said Wenger, as Diaby sustained another ankle injury, something he suffered earlier in the season. "It's one thing to lose the player but the other thing is that I believe the spirit of the way he has been kicked -and [Cesc] Fabregas a few times - is not acceptable.

"When you play against people who do not try to play, it is very difficult to take. It's sad - if an accident happens when both go for the ball, it's OK - I think the referee [Dermot Gallagher] and the press as well, cannot accept that. The only one that did not see the red card is the referee."

The Arsenal players were angry at Smith, who was sent off on his debut against Cheltenham in September's FA Cup win over them. Thierry Henry, who started and shone, complained that all Sunderland's players wanted in the second half was to kick them.

Sunderland's caretaker manager, Kevin Ball, defended his men. "Let them say what they want to say," he said, before backing Smith, who was booked yesterday. "Dan Smith is not a dirty player. He's gone for the ball. It wasn't malicious."

That stretched credibility. Smith's challenge was petulant and perhaps born out of frustration. Sunderland now cannot even reach the record-low 19 points they aimed for. The sooner a change at the club takes place, the better.

Niall Quinn's consortium met the club's chairman, Bob Murray, yesterday for takeover talks and the Irishman was greeted like a saviour on arrival at the ground. A couple of hours later, the smiles were wiped by Arsenal despite an unexceptional display including a worryingly weak Sol Campbell showing. To balance that, one encouraging piece of news for Arsenal and England, defensively, was Ashley Cole's return for the last 25 minutes.

Their season remains both excitingly and precariously poised. Arsenal must feel as though they are playing snakes and ladders. Having climbed all the way to the Champions' League final, they are one step away from glory, but should they be stung by Barcelona they will probably be left with nothing, so their pursuit of fourth should remain relentless; this match should set the tone for their remaining two.

Questions remain over who should feature where and when in those games, particularly so with Diaby's predicament. Fabregas was playing wide on the right and looked so prone to drifting in-field that Arsenal's midfield occasionally seemed narrow and congested. Gaël Clichy gave another solid display, so Arsenal need not worry about rushing Cole's return.

Their future opponents will not show Sunderland's tactical naïvety. The Black Cats were punished by the 28th-minute goal that started a late first-half spell that blew them away. Henry's free-kick, from close to the left touchline, was flung towards the near post and reached the edge of the six-yard box. Danny Collins, distracted by the lurking Diaby, headed the ball into his own net.

Henry was again the supplier for the second, picking out Fabregas's run with a well-delayed low pass, and the midfielder delicately lofted the ball beyond Kelvin Davis's grasp.

Soon it was three as Henry deservedly got on the scoresheet. Again it was from a left-sided free-kick, close to the edge of the 18-yard box. The angle seemed too tight but Henry expertly lifted the ball the over the wall and squeezed it inside the near post.

Sunderland then rallied aggressively. Another Campbell misjudgement forced Jens Lehmann into a sharp save at point-blank range, as Anthony Le Tallec skipped away and crossed for the lively Kevin Kyle, who should have headed in.

In the face of aggression the Gunners were generally a picture of professionalism. They eased off but kept their shape in the face of adversity. That allowed Wenger the luxury of withdrawing Henry with nearly 20 minutes left. If Henry keeps this up, the top of the ladder is in sight for Arsenal.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, D Collins, McCartney; Stead (Le Tallec, 33), Murphy (Smith, 63), Miller (Leadbitter, 80), Whitehead; Brown, Kyle Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Caldwell.

Arsenal: Lehmann; Eboué, Campbell, Touré, Clichy; Fabregas, Diaby, Song, Pires (Cole, 65); Adebayor (Van Persie, 65), Henry (Bergkamp, 72). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Djourou.

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'