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Page last updated at 16:59 GMT, Saturday, 21 February 2009

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

By Ian Hughes

Andrey Arshavin
A lively Arshavin came close to scoring on his Arsenal debut

An impressive debut from Andrey Arshavin failed to lift Arsenal to victory over a stubborn Sunderland.

The Russian almost scored twice in the first 15 minutes, shooting just wide and then seeing a drive well saved.

Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner also went close, while Dean Whitehead and Anton Ferdinand had shots kept out.

Carlos Vela, William Gallas and Van Persie all missed late chances, as Arsenal's hopes of a Champions League spot were dealt another blow.

The Gunners went into the game looking to close the gap on fourth-placed Aston Villa, who lost to Chelsea earlier in the day.

And they started brightly, with new signing Arshavin creating an immediate impression.

He took only five minutes to show why Arsenal had pursued him so doggedly, as he picked up a loose ball and smashed a vicious, low drive only inches wide.

Wenger frustrated by lack of goals

The little Russian was at it again shortly after, this time cutting in from the right and hitting a left-foot shot that forced Marton Fulop into a smart save. In between those chances, Van Persie had clipped the ball over Fulop but wide of the goal after he had been put though by Denilson.

Sunderland were struggling to get on the ball, while Arsenal looked in the mood to close on the gap on the top four.

But in their eagerness to make their early advantage tell, the Gunners began to leave themselves vulnerable to the counter-attack.

The visitors worked the ball quickly to Ferdinand, whose drive was punched away by Manuel Almunia - and it set the trend for the next 10 minutes.

Arshavin debut spoiled by poor result

Unfortunately for Sunderland their fluid approach play was not quite matched by their finishing, with Andy Reid shooting over and Whitehead denied by Almunia.

Arsenal fared no better in front of goal as they came up against an in-form Fulop, who did superbly to tip Bendtner's header round the post.

And when Fulop was beaten by Kolo Toure's header, Sunderland's defenders were on hand to clear the ball off the line.

Back at the other end, Kenwyne Jones was robbed by a backtracking Bacary Sagna just as he was about to shoot.

606: DEBATE
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As the game wore on, there was a growing sense of frustration from the home crowd as Arsenal struggled to break down a resolute Sunderland defence.

The Londoners dominated possession but lacked a creative spark, particularly when Arshavin faded because of his lack of match fitness.

The forward's debut came to an end on 63 minutes when he made way for Carlos Vela - but he had shown plenty of quality in his first outing.

Sadly, quality was in short supply elsewhere on the field as Sunderland sat back and repelled an Arsenal side bereft of ideas.

Sbragia credits hard work and luck for point

A Van Persie free-kick that was beaten away by Fulop was a rare moment of goalmouth action.

And when Arsenal did create a decent opening, substitute Vela scuffed his shot from eight yards out.

In added time, Gallas rushed his volley from eight yards and Van Persie hit a shot straight at Fulop.

The succession of missed chances consigned Arsenal to their third successive goalless draw in the league.

It was a result that was greeted by boos from the home crowd, and one that leaves the Gunners six points behind Villa.


Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger:
"We had the chances but we could not get the goal that would have made us happy.

"We don't concede goals but we want take advantage of the chances that we create - we need to play with a little bit more freedom.

"Andrey Arshavin showed some good signs but he is also showed that he is not completely fit."

Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia:
"We are delighted. We had to work hard and we had a lot of luck as well. But I think we deserved a draw.

"The game plan was to frustrate them and make them play out wide and not let them play through us.

"We tried to play and get in their box and I thought my players' energy and their physical side was fantastic."


Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy (Gibbs 85), Nasri, Denilson, Song Billong (Eboue 78), Arshavin (Vela 63), Bendtner, Van Persie.
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Ramsey, Djourou, Merida.

Booked: Nasri, Clichy.

Sunderland: Fulop, Ben-Haim, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Malbranque, Whitehead, Tainio (Leadbitter 76), Reid (Murphy 78), Richardson, Jones (Edwards 88).
Subs Not Used: Gordon, Davenport, Healy, McShane.

Booked: Richardson, McCartney.

Att: 60,104

Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).


BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin 8.41 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.



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see also
Premier League as it happened
21 Feb 09 |  Premier League
Saturday's football photos
21 Feb 09 |  Football
Arshavin completes Arsenal move
03 Feb 09 |  Arsenal


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