Arsenal 2 Sunderland 1: Quick goal fails to open floodgates at Ashburton Grove

ARSENAL climb to tenth but make hard work of beating a poor Sunderland team, reports RICHARD OSLEY after watching the Gunners win 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.

SAY hello to the top half of the table, Arsenal. Just. The Gunners saw their habit of attempting to overshadow everything they do well with panic and fear almost deprive of them of three points from a fixture that demanded nothing less than a win. Sunderland, a team built on tough tackles but not much more, were seven minutes away from leaving the Emirates Stadium with a point which would have said more about Arsenal's own shortcomings than the visitor's brave hearts.

In the end, after much prevaricating and flirting with another week in the depths of the Premiership table, Robin Van Persie wrapped his foot around a free kick, curled it into the top corner. Even then, with the scores at 2-1 in Arsenal's favour, there were moments of hurdy gurdy defending. The final moments needed patience and control. It was full of thrashing kicks and hopeful headers.

It should have been a different afternoon for Arsenal, a soothing one in which they picked apart a poor team with a hatful of goals. Within 29 seconds, they were ahead. Gervinho played in Van Persie, whose first touch rolled in from the edge of the box. That should have been a springboard, it might have been. Van Persie came close twice more in the first 20 minutes.

And then the Arsenal class of 2011 appeared, the one prone to lapses in concentration and misplaced passes. Sebastian Larsson floated in an equaliser from 25 yards on the half hour mark and then Lee Cattermole should have put the Black Cats ahead: his header from three yards somehow repelled by Wojciech Szczesny. Maybe the save of the season.

Cue a second half of feeble attempts to try and break down Sunderland's defence, built of former Manchester United men. Steve Bruce joked later, in the context of Arsenal's winning free kick, that his team 'couldn't keep asking Arsenal to kick the ball over the bar'.

The good news is that Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin showed some forgotten spark. Alex Song was mighty in midfield. Andre Santos looks a good acquisition. Less impressive were the wasteful Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott.