SUNDERLAND — Arsene Wenger had a wry smile on his face as he recalled the pivotal play which swung the game in his sides favor during their 3-1 win on Saturday against Sunderland.
Arsenal got away with one.
“We were a bit lucky in that situation,” Wenger said. “We were a bit lucky because this type of situation can go against your favor and in the favor of Sunderland.”
At the center of all this was the highly-controversial decision to disallow a goal from USMNT forward Jozy Altidore that would have made it 2-2 with 20 minutes to go.
Sunderland forward Altidore was pulled back by Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna on the edge of the box but continued to bulldoze his way through the defense and slotted the ball into the back of the net.
But as the 23-year-old U.S. international rounded the goal to celebrate what he thought was his first Premier League strike in a Sunderland shirt, referee Martin Atkinson pulled the play back and awarded Sunderland a free kick.
Altidore, Black Cats manager Paolo Di Canio and every Sunderland fan in the Stadium of Light threw their arms into the air in disbelief.
“Look it is one of these things that are controversial,” Wenger continued. “Because the referee had blown the whistle before the ball on the foul. If there is no goal people moan because he didn’t give a foul. He could have given a foul for Sagna as well, as they were both holding each other off.”
But to make matters worse, Atkinson only booked Sagna despite many believing the French defender was the last man and deserved a straight red card.
“Was Sagna last man? No,” Wenger said. “I don’t think he was last man because Koscielny was covering.”
Overall, Arsenal deserved to pick up their third-straight win to leave them top of the Premier League after four games. They stroked the ball around with consummate ease, with Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey all reading off the same hymn sheet.
Arsenal had taken a first half lead through Olivier Giroud but a penalty kick from Craig Gardner leveled the score before Ramsey volleyed them back in front and the slotted home to make it 3-1 after Altidore’s goal was controversially ruled out.
Wenger was pleased with the first half display and admitted that the Gunners had to fight hard in the second half to seal the victory.
“We had an outstanding first half and with plenty of chances but we were only 1-0 up at half time,” Wenger said. “The break came at the right time for Sunderland. They came back with a different proposition in the second half, they came back strong. We dropped physically but after that we found the mental resources to find two goals again and overall it was a very eventful game.”