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Fairytale from New York sinks Cats
SOMETIMES you just can't avoid a fairytale ending in football and unfortunately for Sunderland, they were on the receiving end as an Arsenal hero bid farewell in style.
Having made a return to Arsenal at the beginning of January after leaving the club in 2007, Thierry Henry signed off from his glittering Premier League career in perfect fashion.
The Gunners icon is set to return to the New York Red Bulls this week after a brief loan spell during the MLS close season.
But before his imminent departure the Frenchman rolled back the years with a well-taken finish to complete Arsenal's comeback at the Stadium of Light.
His injury-time goalsent the travelling fans into raptures, while the home supporters could only look on in disbelief that their side had squandered a 70th minute lead courtesy of James McClean after Aaron Ramsey had levelled five minutes later.
As Arsenal jubilantly waved goodbye to one of their all-time greats, Sunderland were forced to say goodbye to their unbeaten home record under Martin O'Neill.
The Black Cats were unbeaten in seven games in all competitions on Wearside prior to Saturday's defeat, but O'Neill refused to criticise his players despite being in a fantastic position to stretch that run to eight games.
The Black Cats boss was right though, because for most of the afternoon his side more than matched Arsene Wenger's men.
As is expected from a side known for their sleek passing game, the Gunners were happy to knock the ball about without creating many clear chances.
But with the same side that completed 120 minutes against Middlesbrough, Sunderland became understandably leggy as the game wore on and that, along with a loss of concentration, proved their downfall as a win turned into a draw, and then a defeat.
O'Neill may have been at fault for leaving it until the 87th minute to bring on a fresh pair of legs, but with Arsenal in Champions League action on Wednesday night, the Black Cats boss hopes the roles will be reversed when the sides meet again in the fifth round of the FA Cup this weekend.
At least a certain Frenchman will be nowhere near Wearside.
While he believes Henry shouldn't have been allowed space in the box to score the winner, O'Neill chose to praise his players for their form over the last two months - they've won seven of their last ten in the Premier League - rather than criticise them for squandering their lead.
"I thought we didn't deserve to lose the game," O'Neill said. "It was a big effort by the team, but it wasn't a great goal to concede for out point of view.
"When you get to that stage we were very tired. I know that from the extra time. Perhaps the positions will be reversed next week when they play midweek and we get a rest.
"I have not complaints about the team. The last couple of months heart and soul have gone into the game. You can learn from this for next week.
"Henry has been terrific and he has not done too badly second time around, but he shouldn't be able to score from two yards out from a lob into our area.
"We can draw breath now. I have no criticism of the team. The boys just need a bit of energy again which we will get in the week.
"It is genuinely disappointing to lose. If you are not going to win it in the end, do not lose it."
The opening 45 minutes proved to be a pretty quiet affair with Arsenal happy to keep possession without creating much and Sunderland content to try and catch the visitors out on the break.
But six minutes before the break, Sunderland felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Per Mertesacker handled Jack Colback's cross after the defender had lost control of the ball.
Appeals erupted around the Stadium of Light, but referee Neil Swarbrick, who was in a great position to see the incident, waved play on.
After his let-off in the first half however, Mertesacker's fortunes turned when he gifted Sunderland a 70th minute breakthrough.
The German defender collapsed in agony as he tried to control a routine pass, leaving McClean to pounce on the loose ball and finish with a low sweeping shot past Wojciech Szczesny.
The goal had followed the Black Cats' best spell in the game, which had seen Szczesny make two fingertip saves to deny Craig Gardner's long-range efforts, but less five minutes after Sunderland had taken a deserved lead Arsenal drew level.
Aaron Ramsey was introduced in place of Mertesacker, who had to be stretchered off, and three minutes after coming on he equalised with a first-time shot that bounced off both posts before going in.
The equaliser seemed to sap any energy the Black Cats had and with his side back in the game, Wenger brought on he fresh legs of Andrey Arshavin.
Henry had already entered the game in the 66th minute and despite previously barely threatening, the Frenchman popped up with a neat finish to win it as the clock ticked 91 minutes.
The tired legs of Phil Bardsley and James McClean failed to stop Arshavin's lob cross into the box and there waiting between John O'Shea and Michael Turner was Henry to guide the ball past Simon Mignolet.
Having watched the 34-year-old condemn his side to defeat, O'Neill admitted afterwards that Henry was in the top five Premier League players of all time.
He said: "He is one of the greats without question. His impact on the Premier League has been fantastic. He has won everything with Arsenal.
"He's had massive impact on the game and had a glorious time here. He doesn't have the same pace as he used to, but he is still a very fine player.
"He has been a great, great player. No question. To me one of the top five who have played since Premier League began.
"He is 34 now. Didn't Ryan Giggs just sign a new one-year contract? And look at Scholes, even older. You wouldn't be surprised if he comes back again."
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