When Santi Cazorla put Arsenal up in the 36th minute at Sunderland, it looked like the beginning for an easy day for the Gunners. Their normally prolific passing game was accompanied by a precision the Gunners often lack, movement toward goal that hinted this many be a rare easy Arsenal road victory. The team went into halftime up one at the Stadium of Light, but it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors doubled their lead. There was little reason to think the match would end 1-0.
Yet that’s precisely what happened. Shortly after the hour mark, Arsenal were left to rue their near-misses and plunked uprights when they lost one of their defenders. Booked for the second time, right back Carl Jenkinson left his team to play with 10 for the last half hour, a disadvantage that caused the match to flip. In a game where Arsenal outshot their opponent 19-14, Sunderland posted eight shots to Arsenal’s four after the sending off. Unfortunately for the Black Cats, none of their shots had to be collected from Arsenal’s net.
(MORE: Bale, Spurs sink Newcastle)
Saving his team, goalkeeper Wojiech Szczesny gave Arsenal a man of the match-caliber performance, even if his numbers failed to capture his impact. His five saves where fewer than the seven recorded by Simon Mignolet, but late stops on chances that would have otherwise been goals (specifically, a late heard by Steven Fletcher) backboned a superficially strong defensive performance. Arsenal was able to keep a clean sheet, but even for a team reduced to 10 men, their defense was often too easily breeched by the Black Cats.
(MORE: Chelsea back in win column.)
After their leery 30 minutes, Arsenal was left with more than just a fortunate victory, in so far as any prolonged survival with 10 men requires some fortunate. The win was an impressive one for a team that’s often criticized for lacking perseverance. On the road, down a man, and having lost one of their better players to injury (Jack Wilshire, whose injury seemed minor), Arsenal got a valuable result, one which keeps them within four points of a coveted Champions League spot.
Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.
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Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City
Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.
Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth
The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.
But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.
Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace
Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a
Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland
Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.
One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.
Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.
The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.
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That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.
“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”
A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?
Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.
Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.
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A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.
Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.
Click play on the video above to watch it.
There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.
So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.
[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]
On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.
That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.
Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.