Despite a nervy few moments midway through the second half, Arsenal regrouped and blew away Premier League bottom-dwellers Sunderland 4-1 today in league action at the Stadium of Light.
Arsene Wenger was forced to make two changes from the side that drew with Middlesbrough last week. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs came in for Theo Walcott and Nacho Monreal, who both had slight knocks.
Arsenal, in their third kits for some reason, were largely on top throughout the first quarter of an hour, with few chances of note. Alexis Sanchez changed that when he gave them the lead in the 19th minute. After a passing move which consisted of 22 passes, Oxlade-Chamberlain burst past his defender and whipped in a cross which Alexis got his head to as he darted between the two central defenders. It was a brilliant goal, but David Moyes must have been disappointed Arsenal’s diminuitive striker won a header against his towering center backs.
The remainder of the first half was rather tame. Arsenal was largely on top but could not capitalize on their dominance. Their biggest chance came in the 38th minute as Oxlade-Chamberlain played a long ball onto the run of Mesut Ozil. The bounce of the ball contrived against the Arsenal talisman though and he couldn’t quite make the contact on the lofted attempt that he would have wanted.
The second half was largely much of the same in the opening stages.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had a great chance to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute through an Arsenal counterattack. Iwobi played a ball out quickly to Alexis, who laid it off to Oxlade-Chamberlain. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ozil combined brilliantly to put the former through on goal, but the Englishman shot far too early and was well wide.
Arsenal had a strong penalty shout as Lamine Kone appeared to drag back Alexis by the shoulder in the 60th minute, but referee Martin Atkinson waived Arsenal’s appeals away.
Atkinson was not so hesitant 4 minutes later as he awarded the home side a penalty kick. Didier Ndong played a long ball towards Duncan Watmore which Shkodran Mustafi should have been able to deal with. Unfortunately, the center back misjudged the situation and Watmore was in on goal. Petr Cech came out and made contact with Watmore as he tried to round the keeper and a penalty was awarded. Jermain Defoe hammered the penalty home as Cech guessed wrong and it was game on.
The goal fired Arsenal into gear and the Gunners blew away the home side from that point on. Arsenal pressed their attack and brought on Olivier Giroud in the 69th minute. 2 minutes later, and with his first touch, the substitute scored a fine finish off a Gibbs cross to put Arsenal ahead 2-1.
In the 76th minute, Giroud doubled Arsenal’s lead. Ozil’s corner was played to Giroud at the near post and the Frenchman’s flicked header just got over the outstretched fingers of Jordan Pickford. According to the NBCSN broadcast, it was Giroud’s second touch of the match.
Arsenal continue to attack and it didn’t even take 2 minutes to extend their lead to 3 goals. Gibbs fired a shot off the post which landed at the feet of Aaron Ramsey, who had come on in the intervening period. Ramsey’s mishit shot or pass, depending on your interpretation, went to Alexis who easily tapped home.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was Arsenal’s final substitute on the day, replacing Francis Coqulein in the 89th minute. It was the youngster’s first Premier League appearance since December 13, 2014, a 4-1 win over Sunderland’s North East rivals, Newcastle United.
All in all, it was a good performance for the Gunners, with Giroud shining in his new super sub role. Alexis was brilliant as well, creating chances and scoring.
The win put the Gunners on top of the Premier League table momentarily with 23 points and a goal difference of 13.