Arsenal made sure that the race for the Champions League football would go down to the final day of the season, with an Alexis Sánchez brace giving them the comfortable 2-0 victory over the relegated Sunderland.
The first-half did prove to have its moments starting with Sánchez’s disallowed goal, but the visitors looked to be competitive with decent opportunities from Didier Ndong and Jermain Defoe testing the Gunners.
Only the excellence of Jordan Pickford was keeping the North London side at bay with excellent saves from Danny Welbeck, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi throughout the second period, but the brace from Sánchez kept them in the picture for Champions League football though it remained out of their hands going into the final day.
Playing to waves of empty seats
It has been no secret that an increasing number of Arsenal fans have become disillusioned with the work of long-standing manager Arsène Wenger. More protests were planned with the visit of Black Cats and the fans decided to vote with their feet on this occasion, rows of empty seats engulfed the Emirates Stadium and to be fair those absent didn’t miss much in the opening proceedings.
Sánchez was a doubt ahead of this clash after picking up a minor knock in the 4-1 defeat of Stoke, and he managed to find the net eight minutes in as he speculative effort managed to sneak past Pickford. The Chilean’s celebrations were cut instantly short as referee Roger East judged it had struck the hand of Olivier Giroud on the way through.
It was great football from the Gunner’s as Aaron Ramsey switched the play beautifully into the feet of Héctor Bellerín, he did well to cut inside on Bryan Ovideo and curls a sweet effort but it was just over Pickford’s crossbar.
Not looking to roll over
It has been a miserable campaign for David Moyes’ men and came into further criticism at the weekend with their performance or lack of it in the 2-0 defeat to Swansea, but the Black Cats looked a lot better in North London and gave Petr Čech something to think about on more than one occasion.
Ndong did well in the 34th minute as he showed a great turn of pace to get on Defoe’s through ball, Rob Holding was hot on his heels which forced the midfielder to shoot but Čech had to make a smart save at the near-post.
It was then the turn of Defoe who had reached 15 league goals for the second consecutive season and looked to add to it moments after Ndong’s effort, he was put through but forced to shoot due to a lack of options and increasing pressure but Čech was once again forced into a save to keep the scores level.
The best chance of the half fell to the Gunners but Pickford once again showed why he was deserving of his PFA nomination. It was good build-up play between Ramsey and Mesut Özil which resulted in the Welshman getting the shot away, but Pickford clawed behind at his near post. Holding had an excellent chance from the resulting corner as he was left unopposed in the centre, but the young defender’s header was straight down the throat of the Washington-born stopper.
Making that crucial difference
The second period really lacked any sort of clean cut chance in the opening minutes with Nacho Monreal’s nearly comical own goal, but as the game crept along their desperation grow but Pickford continued to prove an formidable foe.
Welbeck looked to make an instant impact after just coming off the substitute bench, he managed to get the shot away in an crowded area but Pickford was there again to palm it away from danger.
The 23-year-old could do nothing however in preventing Arsenal taking what was a deserved lead, it was goods play from Özil as he started the move before making the run to the by-line to get on the end of the ball over the non-existent defence. It was easy enough for the German to hit across the face for Sánchez to tap home.
Turning on the pressure in the latter stages
The Gunners had drew first blood and they proved ravenous for more as they looked to crank up the pressure on Liverpool, Xhaka had a good chance as he was found unmarked on the edge of the area by Özil but once again Pickford palmed it away.
It was only matter of when not if for when the home side’s second goal would arrive, and Sánchez added his 23rd goal of what has been another excellent campaign for the forward. The ball was met by Giroud whose touch produced an excellent reaction save from Pickford, but it fell straight onto the head of the Chilean who nodded home.
There was enough time for Pickford to another zero to his transfer value as he produced yet another excellent stop, Mustafi rose highest to the corner in but Pickford managed to get fingertips to it to push it onto the crossbar.