Soccer

Arsenal cruises past Sunderland, keep pace in title race

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The Canadian Press
2/22/2014 12:03:50 PM
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LONDON -- Arsenal cruised past Sunderland in a 4-1 win Saturday with a brace from the returning Olivier Giroud, allowing the Gunners to keep pace in the Premier League title race and to bounce back from a mid-week Champions League defeat.

Giroud, who wasn't in the starting lineup for two matches after allegations about his private life and a decline in form, scored twice in the first half. Tomas Rosicky's chip made it 3-0 before half time at Emirates Stadium, while defender Laurent Koscielny scored an unmarked header in the second half.

Sunderland scored a late consolation goal with a 25-yard strike by Emanuele Giaccherini. The result leaves Arsenal in second place with 59 points, one behind Chelsea, and Sunderland in the relegation zone in 18th place with 24 points.

"We had a very demanding week physically and mentally and we gave the right response today," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

Record signing Mesut Ozil, who missed a penalty in the 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday and had an argument with teammate Mathieu Flamini during the match, was sidelined with a thigh injury.

Giroud, who had to apologize to his club and family after a British tabloid published photos of a model who allegedly visited his hotel room, made up for lost time against Sunderland. He scored in the fifth minute after nice buildup play between Rosicky and Jack Wilshere led to the goal, with the France forward slotting the ball past Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone.

Giroud struck again in the 31st when he intercepted a sloppy back pass from Santiago Vergini intended for Mannone and rolled the ball underneath Arsenal's former backup 'keeper. Giroud now has 12 league goals.

"I had no hesitation about his strength of character," Wenger said. "Of course you want him to come back into the team and be successful, which he was today because he scored two goals."

Rosicky scored in the 42nd with a chip after a string of one-time passes from his teammates, and Koscielny netted with a free header in the 57th. Sunderland's goal came in the 81st after Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny dealt with a free kick by punching the ball outside the area. It fell to Giaccherini and he unleashed a first-time shot to beat the Poland 'keeper.

Despite losing to Bayern on Wednesday and dropping from the Premier League summit recently after months in first place, Arsenal fans were in high spirits before Saturday's match. The club unveiled a statue to former player Dennis Bergkamp outside the stadium, and Wenger compared Rosicky's performance against Sunderland to Bergkamp's style.

"I am very pleased for Rosicky because today Bergkamp got a statue and I think Rosicky took the Bergkamp role well. Certainly Dennis will have been pleased to have seen him play," he said.

In addition to Ozil, Arsenal has a few other injury concerns: Wilshere (hamstring), Koscielny (back) and Nacho Monreal (foot). While Wenger wasn't certain how bad Wilshere's injury was, he said Ozil, Koscielny and Monreal should be available next week.

Sunderland plays Manchester City in the League Cup final next weekend and captain John O'Shea hopes his teammates have learned from the defeat.

"It's a wake-up call for us, both in the league and ahead of next weekend," he said. "We have to make sure we look at ourselves individually and collectively, dust ourselves down and go again."

Olivier Giroud (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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