SUNDERLAND were rightly left fuming at referee Martin Atkinson today after the official’s shocking decision cost Paolo Di Canio’s side against Arsenal.
The Black Cats were denied a perfectly legitimate second half equaliser against the Gunners, only for Atkinson to bafflingly fail to award Sunderland an advantage when Jozy Altidore’s shot had trickled over the line.
Di Canio’s men had trailed 1-0 at the interval after a one-sided first half when Arsenal spurned a succession of chances, following Olivier Giroud’s opener.
But half-time substitute Craig Garder drew level from the penalty spot three minutes after the re-start and Sunderland were a changed side until Aaron Ramsey regained the lead against the run of play.
Altidore had the ball in the net three minutes later, but Atkinson decided to bring the play back for a foul by Arsenal skipper Bacary Sagna.
Sunderland’s sense of injustice was then heightened when Ramsey slotted home a third for the Gunners.
Di Canio was understandably infuriated by Atkinson and was sent to the stands in stoppage time after a lengthy head-to-head with the official.
The Sunderland head coach made five changes to the Sunderland XI, with new signing Ki Sung-Yeung handed his debut and fellow summer capture Charis Mavrias making his first Premier League start.
Ki replaced Seb Larsson in central midfield, while Mavrias came in for Emanuele Giaccherini, who was ruled out with a hamstring problem.
Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher were partnered together for the first time up front in place of Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won, while Valentin Roberge replaced the suspended John O’Shea.
Arsenal’s £40million deadline day buy Mesut Ozil made his Premier League bow, as one of three changes in the Gunners side.
Ozil replaced the injured Santi Cazorla, while Mathieu Flamini took the place of Tomas Rosicky in midfield and Bacary Sagna came in for Per Mertesacker at centre-half.
It was Ozil who created the opening goal in the 11th minute after Sunderland were caught on the break.
Kieran Gibbs launched a ball down the left-hand channel which Ozil controlled neatly and squared for Olivier Giroud, 12 yards out, who tucked it inside the near post.
Sunderland were almost level within three minutes after being denied by the woodwork.
Mavrias’ corner from the left was met at the near post by Modibo Diakite, whose glancing header crashed off the top of the crossbar before Roberge nodded the rebound over the top.
Moments later, Arsenal almost doubled their advantage when Theo Walcott was played in down the right-hand side of the Sunderland area by Ozil.
Walcott had just Keiren Westwood to beat, but his right-footed shot towards the far corner was blocked well by the Ireland stopper.
Westwood’s opposite number Wojciech Szczesny was called into action in the 18th minute when Jozy Altidore let fly with a powerful right-footed drive from 30 yards out which the Polish stopper pushed away low to his left.
Walcott spurned another opportunity to extend Arsenal’s lead in the 28th minute after he was again played in, inside Jack Colback, by a pinpoint ball from Ozil.
The angle was narrower for Walcott, but his right-footed shot across goal still required a smart save from the legs of Westwood.
Two minutes before the interval, Walcott spurned another opportunity after a beautiful one-two down the left between Jack Wilshere and Giroud.
Wilshere hit a first-time cross to Walcott in space at the far post, but the England international could only head into the side netting.
Westwood was again Sunderland’s saviour in first half stoppage time after Giroud’s flick on the edge of the area put Walcott in behind the Sunderland defence on the right-hand touchline.
Walcott’s effort was weak, but Westwood spread himself well to block.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1
Di Canio made a change at the interval with fit-again Craig Gardner replacing David Vaughan.
Within three minutes of the re-start, Gardner had brought Sunderland level after the Black Cats were awarded a spot-kick.
Adam Johnson was brought down the right-hand side of the area after a reckless lunge from Laurent Koscielny, although replays showed there was minimal contact.
Gardner stepped up and sent Szczesny the wrong way, planting it in the bottom left-hand corner.
The goal sparked far more intensity from sunderland and they thought they had gone ahead when Fletcher tapped home Johnson’s cross, only for the linesman to correctly flag that the Scottish international was a couple of yards offside.
But against the run of play, Arsenal regained the lead in the 68th minute.
Carl Jenkinson pulled the ball back to the edge of the area where Aaron Ramsey hit the sweetest of volleys, which took a slight deflection off Diakite and left Westwood with no chance.
Sunderland should have been level three minutes later, but they were punished by some awful refereeing from Martin Atkinson.
Altidore was clearly fouled by Sagna on the edge of the Arsenal area, but the American international shrugged off the challenge and saw his shot trickle over the line after Szczesny couldn’t get enough on it.
But Atkinson pulled the play back for a foul by Sagna and only awarded the Arsenal skipper a yellow card.
Sunderland’s sense of injustice was then heightened in the 76th minute when Ramsey played a one-two with Giroud on the edge of the area before tucking the ball under Szczesny for Arsenal’s third.
Altidore was a whisker away to halving the deficit in the 82nd minute with a glancing header from Johnson’s corner from the right which drifted just wide.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 1 Arsenal 3
SUNDERLAND: Westwood, Celustka, Diakite, Roberge, Colback, Johnson, Ki, Vaughan (Gardner 46), Mavrias (Borini 71), Fletcher (Wickham 77), Altidore. Subs not used: Mannone, Brown, Larsson, Cuellar. Booked: Gardner (52)
ARSENAL: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Sagna, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Flamini, Wilshere, Walcott (Monreal 88), Ozil (Vermaelen 80), Giroud (Akpom 90). Subs not used: Fabianski, Frimpong, Miyaichi, Gnabry. Booked: Flamini (60), Sagna (71)
* Don’t miss the Football Echo – out tomorrow morning – for our verdict on the big match and reaction, plus pictures galore.