Wenger loses plot after late Arsenal lapse

<b>Sunderland 1, Arsenal 1:</b> Frenchman puts hand on fourth official after Gunners are pegged back in time added on
  • @stevetongue

Those Arsenal supporters forced to leave the ground well before the final whistle to catch the last London train will have been doubly distraught to learn that their team had been denied victory by Darren Bent's equalising goal in the fifth minute of added time. They can nevertheless have been no more upset than a furious Arsène Wenger, who appeared to push the fourth official in frustration after the final whistle.

His team had led since a freakish goal in the lucky 13th minute by Cesc Fabregas, after which Alex Song was sent off, Arsenal's seventh red card in 16 League games, and Tomas Rosicky missed a penalty.

Having not deserved their lead, the London side seemed to be holding on comfortably even with 10 men and had Fabregas been on the pitch to take the penalty they would surely have wrapped up a victory to take them to the top of the table ahead of Chelsea's game with Blackpool today. Instead, Rosicky's miss gave new heart to a Sunderland team and a crowd never short of it and one miskicked clearance at the finish gave the predatory Bent his chance.

It was a far cry from the beautiful game in the 6-0 drubbing of Braga in midweek and left Wenger furious. He looked and sounded as ill-humoured as he normally is in defeat, complaining that the final whistle should have been blown before Sunderland's last fling.

"I know it's a minimum of four minutes but nothing happened to justify adding more," he said. "In the second half we played very well even with 10 men and were the better team. It's frustrating."

That said, the goal Arsenal scored was one of the strangest of the 1,000-plus in Wenger's time at the club. There had seemed no danger of any sort as Anton Ferdinand collected a pass from Kieran Richardson. Fabregas, however, suddenly darted forward to close down the centre-half and as a startled Ferdinand attempted to send the ball downfield it struck the Arsenal captain's outstretched foot and from 40 yards looped over the head of the goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Soon afterwards, Fabregas pulled a hamstring and was replaced by Rosicky. Sunderland came back strongly and did not deserve to be behind at the interval. They had declined to start with Asamoah Gyan and Bent had to make do with Danny Welbeck and Ahmed Al-Muhammadi supporting from the flanks.

A crop of corners resulted from the increasing pressure, but Manuel Almunia handled them well. The clearest chances for a long time were two headers, Nedum Onuoha's over the bar and one from Cristian Riveros but directed at Almunia.

Whether or not Wenger had words at half-time, Arsenal were livelier for a while. Andrey Arshavin missed twice and then played a smart return pass to put in Marouane Chamakh, who was denied by Mignolet.

But within 10 minutes of the resumption the visitors had foolishly handicapped themselves. Song, already booked for a foul, blatantly blocked Steed Malbranque and there was no justification for either his shrugged protest or Wenger's rather patronising pat on the shoulder of the fourth official Martin Atkinson. The Arsenal manager needed to concentrate instead on restructuring his team, which was done by sending on a defensive midfielder in Denilson for an attacking one, Arshavin.

Sunderland sent on Gyan to boost their attack but should have been two goals down when Al-Muhammadi clearly tripped Samir Nasri. With Fabregas off the pitch, Rosicky hit the penalty kick high and wide.

With Arsenal still solid, the home side struggled to create sufficient chances. Ferdinand's header flicked off Denilson and had to be nodded off the line by Gaël Clichy and Gyan's header flew straight at Almunia. Then Sébastien Squillaci and Clichy failed to clear a cross and Bent thrashed in his fifth goal of the season.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce said: "Arsène Wenger is a genius but he just doesn't like getting beaten."