Van Persie saves Arsenal's day
London - Robin van Persie reinforced his importance to Arsenal's prospects this season with the two goals that secured a 2-1 victory over Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Van Persie has emerged as the Gunners' most influential figure in the wake of the departures of former skipper Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
The Holland international has been one of the few Arsenal players to impress during a depressing start to the campaign and was once again the stand-out figure, opening the scoring after 31 seconds and securing the win with a late free kick after Sebastian Larsson had levelled in the 31st minute.
Arsenal's display was hardly convincing but after a difficult two months, it was the result that mattered to boss Arsene Wenger and his players.
For Sunderland there was only more disappointment. Steve Bruce's side have also struggled, leading to growing scrutiny about the manager's future and they are only above the relegation zone on goal difference.
The international break had given Arsenal plenty of time to stew on the defeat to Tottenham in the north London derby last time out.
That result prompted Wenger to concede that his team could not be regarded as title challengers until they made a significant impression on the 12-point gap that had opened up between themselves and the early leaders.
Initially there were few signs that Wenger's players were weighed down by their early season plight and they could not have wished for a better start.
Tomas Rosicky released Gervinho down the left and when the Ivorian squared for Van Persie the Arsenal captain produced an emphatic finish from the edge of the box to put the home side ahead before many supporters had even taken their seats.
Van Persie had rejected claims his commitment to Arsenal was wavering in his match-day programme notes and his performance during the opening 25 minutes eloquently supported his case.
He came within inches of claiming a second after a sublime turn and chip that struck the inside of the post.
Gervinho also had a good opportunity to add a second but having withstood early home pressure without conceding a second goal, Sunderland began to force their way into the game, helped in no small part by a succession of Arsenal errors.
Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny was guilty of providing the visitors with timely lift when he raced out of his area only to arrive late, allowing Stephane Sessegnon to round him before the danger was eventually snuffed out by hastily backtracking defenders.
Moments later a free kick, clumsily conceded by Mikel Arteta, granted Bruce's side a route back into the game with Larsson lifting the ball over the defensive wall and into the far corner for the equaliser.
Suddenly Arsenal's earlier swagger disappeared and Wenger's side looked anxious and gripped by nerves.
Carl Jenkinson was caught in possession by Larsson and it took a superb point-blank save by Szczesny to deny Lee Cattermole's header.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, Sessegnon was allowed to cross from the right and Jack Colback should have done better when he connected with Larsson's nod down with a left foot volley.
The introduction of Andrey Arshavin for Gervinho midway through the second period provided the home side with more drive in the final third and the Russia international came close when he stabbed a shot wide after slaloming his way past three defenders.
Yet inevitably it was left to van Persie to ensure Arsenal avoided dropping more points.
With eight minutes remaining the Dutchman took charge of a free kick having seen several of his team-mates squander similar opportunities and produced a strike every bit as impressive as Larsson's earlier effort.