Arsenal ensured the race for the top four will go to the final day of the season with a sluggish 2-0 home victory over already relegated Sunderland.
Despite the large amount of empty red seats at the Emirates, there was a very lively start to the game. Alexis Sanchez showed no signs of injury and was making his presence felt. Fabio Borini made a run into the box and tried to cut it back for Jermain Defoe but Petr Cech cleared the danger.
Arsenal could have been ahead after just seven minutes but Sanchez’s strike was disallowed because it hit Olivier Giroud’s arm on the way in. The Gunners continued to pressure Sunderland but Jordan Pickford made a superb save to deny Giroud and keep the scores level.
Pickford was in fantastic form throughout the first half with the PFA Young Player of the Year nominee making countless saves. Aaron Ramsey’s shot was tipped wide and Rob Holding wasted a free header as his shot was straight at Pickford.
The score was goalless at the break with Arsenal wasting several opportunities to take the lead.
In a game they had to win, the Gunners simply weren’t making the most of their opportunities. As the second half got underway, Nacho Monreal nearly scored a diabolical own goal. His careless back pass to Cech was palmed wide by the keeper and as a result Sunderland were awarded an indirect free kick. Seb Larsson cleverly scooped it up in an attempt to find a team-mate but Granit Xhaka was in the right place to head it over.
Larsson had another free-kick opportunity five minutes later when he was clipped by Monreal but Billy Jones was unable to get on the end of it. Considering they were the first team to be relegated, Sunderland were playing well and doing an excellent job of frustrating Arsenal.
Substitute Danny Welbeck nearly made an instant impact but another brilliant save from Pickford kept him out. It seemed like Arsenal were going to have to settle for a draw but Sunderland could not hold on any longer.
Xhaka passed to Mesut Ozil who found Sanchez and the Chilean’s right footed effort from close range finally broke the deadlock for Arsenal. It was really harsh on Pickford who had been superb all night.
Nine minutes later, Sanchez doubled his and Arsenal’s lead with another effort from close range, a header this time. Pickford had just denied Giroud but could not recover in time to keep Sanchez out as well.
Arsenal would have scored at least six goals had it not been for Jordan Pickford who has continuously spared his side further embarrassment this season. It is highly unlikely that Pickford will remain at Sunderland next season, he is simply too good for the Championship.
Sunderland’s final game of the season is against champions Chelsea. Arsenal face Everton. The Gunners have to win and hope that Liverpool lose/draw against Middlesbrough in order to secure a top four place. However if Liverpool win, Arsenal will be playing in the Europa League next season.
Arsenal Starting XI: Cech, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Bellerin, Ramsey (Welbeck 69), Xhaka, Gibbs (Iwobi 69), Ozil, Alexis, Giroud (Walcott 85).
Unused substitutes: Gabriel, Ospina, Coquelin, Elneny.
Sunderland Starting XI: Pickford, Jones, O’Shea, Kone, Manquillo (Januzaj 82), Ndong (Gibson 88), Cattermole (Gooch 77), Larsson, Oviedo, Borini, Defoe
Unused substitutes: Mannone, Rodwell, Lescott, Love.
Featured Image Credit: ctwino