SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Kieran Richardson of Sunderland scores the opening goal during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sunderland and Arsenal at The Stadium of Light on February 18, 2012 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Sunderland outperformed Arsenal at the Stadium of Light today, and took their chances well enough to defeat Arsenal 2-0 and advance in the FA Cup. Barring a miracle at the Emirates against Milan, this leaves Arsenal nothing else to play for except hanging on to fourth place in the Premier League. Here's how the action went down:
Arsenal opted to use Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho on the flanks, and Gervinho made his return to the team known with a good run down the left onto a Mikel Arteta long ball to win a corner, which came to nothing. Arsenal passed around a bit in the next three minutes until Craig Gardner fouled Robin van Persie 30 yards from goal. Arteta lined up the free kick, which flashed about a yard wide.
Things would get more difficult for Arsenal, as Coquelin went down on 8 minutes with a hamstring injury, and he had to come off for Sebastian Squillaci. Sunderland smelled blood, and started pressing. They won a corner as Bacary Sagna went down with a knock as well, although the corner was cleared.
Sunderland had found their feet, though, and Arsenal's good spell of the first five minutes was gone. Stéphane Sessègnon had a good effort on 14 minutes that missed by about two yards. Aaron Ramsey was down with a knock now, as well. 18 minutes on, Alex Song took a knock, too.
Nothing really happened of note except for some crashes until 28 minutes when Gervinho ran onto a great ball from van Persie and forced Simon Mignolet into a good save. The corner came to nothing. Sunderland won a corner a minute later. Arsenal's passing was settling a bit again, and Alex Song played a great pass for van Persie into the area, but John O'Shea did just enough to get a touch on the ball before the striker tumbled over his leg.
40 minutes in, Johan Djourou held back Craig Gardner, and Sunderland won a free kick. Sebastian Larsson swung it in, it was momentarily cleared, but Bacary Sagna didn't close down Kieran Richardson, and his strike hit Squillaci and nestled into the far corner from 25 yards.
1-0 to Sunderland.
Two minutes later, they would nearly make it two on a vicious counter, as Larsson crossed deep, Jack Colback tapped it back at the far post, and it nearly found its way in from a McClean volley. Arsenal were all over the place. Halftime arrived without much further incident, aside from Thomas Vermaelen shoving Gardner for being lame. Arsenal would need to find a way to break down Sunderland in the second half.
The second half, though, started pretty poorly. McClean escaped from all kinds of tackles and bore down on the box, Bacary Sagna forced to take him out and earn a yellow. The free kick stood at 20 yards, and Larsson had a look, but flashed it over the bar. Three minutes later, Arsenal sustained a little pressure, but Arteta shot about ten yards off target from long range.
53 minutes in, the subs would come. Tomas Rosicky replaced the limping Ramsey, and Theo Walcott would come on in place of Squillaci, meaning Song would drop to the back. Squillaci went off straight down the tunnel--perhaps hurt, perhaps just angry--and Arsenal had used all three of their substitutions. Theo Walcott set up to play through the middle, weirdly.
Johan Djourou went in with two feet, but got all ball from the front, which must've influenced the decision not to discipline him. Lee Cattermole fouled someone hard again, and yet again didn't get a yellow. Vermaelen got a yellow, though, for his challenge.
Phil Bardsley hurt his ankle pretty badly on 59 minutes under no pressure, a little reminiscent of Per Mertesacker's injury in last weekend's match, although Bardsley was able to walk on it. 62 minutes in, Arsenal were looking better. Larsson made a late challenge on Arteta and earned a yellow, and Arsenal had a free kick. van Persie rocketed it in low, and it took a deflection for a corner, which Mignolet claimed easily.
Arsenal were pushing a little harder now, but the quality of passing simply wasn't there yet. Time ticked on, Arsenal looked to start breaking at pace a bit, but it wasn't coming off. Every minute was improvement, though, Rosicky at the heart of most of it. 75 minutes in, Thomas Vermaelen headed an Arteta free kick on goal, but Mignolet saved.
It was all going to come undone, though. Chamberlain lost the ball, and Larsson put it up for Sessegnon, who broke at pace, shrugging off Arteta. He broke towards goal and laid it off for Gardner, whose shot beat Lukasz Fabianski. Chamberlain ran the length of the pitch and tried to clear the shot off the line, but could not, and it was an own goal.
2-0 to Sunderland. 12 minutes left.
Ten minutes later, nothing interesting had happened. Frazier Campbell replaced Sessègnon on 89 minutes.
Arteta shot over the bar in the first minute of injury time, but that was about it, really--Arsenal were well beaten on the day, and full time arrived. 2-0 to Sunderland, Arsenal out of the FA Cup, North London derby in eight days.
Bring on Tottenham. Gulp.