Dogged defending earns open-day draw.
By Chris Fryatt
Sunderland kicked off the new Barclays Premier League season with a hard-earned goalless draw at the Emirates Stadium.
Forced to endure heavy Arsenal pressure, particularly in the second half Martin O’Neill’s side dug deep to secure a point and make a solid start to the new campaign.
Arsene Wenger’s side grew increasingly frustrated as they struggled to overcome the visitors’ dogged resistance, with tackles and blocks flying in.
With a flurry of defensive injuries suffered during pre-season, O’Neill handed a debut to Carlos Cuellar alongside John O’Shea in central defence, with Craig Gardner moving to right-back.
New-signing Louis Saha, who arrived at the club on Thursday, was named on the bench alongside Keiren Westwood, with Simon Mignolet preferred in goal.
For the Gunners, Arsene Wenger included midfield recruit Santi Cazorla in his starting eleven and tasked Lukas Podolski to take on his side’s goal-scoring burden following Robin van Persie’s departure to Manchester United.
Although both sides had early chances, it was the Belgian’s opposite number Wojciech Szczesny who was called into action first, superbly saving James McClean’s low effort after the Northern Irishman’s powerful run into the Arsenal box.
Moments later, Mignolet pulled off an even better stop at the other end, superbly tipping away Cazorla’s powerful long-range effort.
The away side continued to enjoy much of the possession, but Sunderland were always dangerous on the break with Jack Colback testing Szczesny from the edge of the area.
On 20 minutes, Arsenal created their best chance - Gervinho glided past Gardner and O’Shea to cross into the area, but Cazorla placed his shot wide of the upright.
Moments later, Carl Jenkinson’s low cross caused panic in the Sunderland defence, with Mignolet pulling off a fantastic reflex save as the ball was flicked towards goal.
The Belgian was again called into action on the half hour, diving low to his right to turn Abou Diaby’s low shot round the post before watching Mikel Arteta’s free-kick fly high over the crossbar.
Four minutes before half-time, Colback had yet another sight on goal after Sebastian Larsson’s pass split the Arsenal defence but the 24-year-old shot wide from a tight angle.
Arsenal pressed forward before the interval but were unable to break down Sunderland’s dogged resistance – Lukas Podolski wasting his first real chance of the game after Theo Walcott’s cross was put wide by the German international.
Wave after wave of Arsenal attacks continued to hit the Sunderland back-line after the break, Podolski curling a free-kick over Mignolet’s bar before Cazorla and Walcott fired wide.
But to a man, every Sunderland player stepped up to fill every gap and stem the tide.
Soaking up such pressure, O’Neill’s side naturally tired towards the end of the game, but will be delighted to return home with a clean sheet and a point heading into next week’s home match against Reading.
They had one late scare as Cazorla sent substitute Olivier Giroud through in the final moments, but the Frenchman blazed wastefully wide with only Simon Mignolet to beat as the visitors held out for a share of the spoils.
- Abou Diaby (Ramsey)
- Walcott (Arshavin)
- Yao Kouassi
- Podolski (Giroud)
- Sessegnon (Saha)
- Larsson (Meyler)
- Campbell (Elmohamady)
- Clarindo Dos Santos