Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0: February 18, 2012
Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland had fans – and players – dreaming of Wembley after knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup in a dramatic fifth-round success.
A week after losing 2-1 to Arsenal at the Stadium of Light, the Black Cats spiked the Gunners’ cup ambitions with a spirited performance.
Sunderland outmuscled the visitors, with Lee Cattermole pivotal in a physical five-man midfield which continually knocked Arsenal out of their stride.
The home side simply wanted it more, with Arsene Wenger’s side bullied out of genuine opportunities, other than an early chance for Gervinho.
Goalscorer Kieran Richardson told the Echo: “I want to get to Wembley like everyone at Sunderland – it would great for the fans if we can make it through to the next round.
“We’ve been playing so well since Martin O’Neill has come in and we deserved to get through. I would say we wanted it more than them.
“We were gutted last week after losing in the league, but it shows how far we’ve come as a team that we were so disappointed to lose against a team like Arsenal.”
In contrast to the league meeting seven days earlier, Sunderland were quicker to press the Gunners and did so further up the pitch – forcing Arsenal to surrender possession uncharacteristically cheaply or commit ugly unforced errors.
The opening goal came just a few minutes before half-time.
Seb Larsson curled in a free-kick and defender Thomas Vermaelen’s clearing header only went to Richardson, on the left flank.
The full-back sensed his opportunity and, with everyone on the back foot in the penalty area, he got his body over the ball and rifled off a low shot which flashed through the penalty area, took a slight deflection off sub Sebastien Squillaci and buried itself in the far corner of the net.
The goal was perfectly timed to hearten the hosts, and they worked hard throughout the second half to keep the listless Gunners at bay. And a brilliant breakaway goal sealed the deal for O’Neill’s side, clinching a last-eight trip to Everton.
Terrier-like Jack Colback found Stephane Sessegnon up the left and he covered half the length of the pitch before releasing the ball on edge of the Arsenal area.
The lay-off to his right seemed aimed at Craig Gardner but instead found Larsson, who had made a great, lung-bursting run to be in a position to shoot – his low effort hitting the post and rolling along the line into the patch of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who shinned the ball into an open goal.
It was a horrible moment for the 18-year-old, who had lost the ball at the very start of the move but had been one of Arsenal’s better players.
Star man Cattermole said: “On the day, I thought we wanted it more than they did. Our spirit came shining through. “We tackled, we passed and we were the better side.
“Arsenal had a lot of the ball, but never really hurt us. I don’t really think they were lacking confidence in their play.
“They played as they have done most of the season. They had a lot of the ball, but we set ourselves up right and played well.
“We look dangerous at the minute and are not going to be an easy side for anyone to play against. We are full of confidence and the lads are playing really well.
“We are going into every game thinking we are capable of winning whoever we are up against.
“No one has rolled us over throughout the season. There is no team in the league in better form than us.
“We have a lot of momentum and I do not think there has really been a dip in any of the games under the new manager.
“We have had a lot of matches and some difficult questions have been asked of us, but, if you look at the effort the lads are putting in, it is unbelievable.”
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Richardson, Turner, O’Shea, Cattermole, Larsson, Gardner, Sessegnon (Campbell), Colback, McClean
Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Vermaelen, Song, Djourou, Coquelin (Squillaci) (Rosicky), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey (Walcott), van Persie, Arteta, Gervinho. Att: 26,042
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