Leaving the Stadium of Light with all three points, and with important players returning to fitness, Arsene Wenger can consider this match day to be a job well done.
The Black Cats put in a performance that was vastly improved from the majority of their efforts this season, but their spirit was broken by a simple change of approach, and the Gunners finding a higher gear.
Arsenal had Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal and Theo Walcott as fitness doubts before kickoff, and all three were duly rested, with a view to hopefully being able to call upon them in midweek and sooner, rather tha later. This meant that Mohamed Elneny, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain kept their places in the team.
Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey had proved their readiness to Wenger, and they both were granted a place on the bench, alongside Ainslie Maitland-Niles who had impressed in the EFL Cup win over Reading. The Frenchman in particular was to prove quite the boost in the game….
Arsenal started well, and it took approximately 19 minutes for their dominance to become tangible in the form of a goal.
The Ox, who needed to show he can add consistency to his quiver of arrows, flung in a great cross from the right hand side which Lamina Kone looked to have under control. Little did he know that he had the human salmon that is Alexis Sanchez lurking behind him. The Chilean leaped higher and slightly ahead of Kone, which enabled him to flick his forehead onto the ball. The ball fizzed into the far corner, and thanks to the athleticism and instinct of Sanchez, Arsenal were a goal up.
There were more chances in the first half, but Pickford and profligate finishing put paid to the Gunners aims of extending their lead.
They would pay for such waste, and the game could gone the way of many Arsenal scripts – which would be dominance, but dropped points.
The second half started much like the first, with Arsenal possession, but it would be the home side who would hit the back of the net next.
Duncan Watmore ousted a flummoxed Mustafi from the ball, and bore down on goal unopposed. His touch knocked the ball wide, but past Petr Cech. Cech then pulled his hands away, but his forward momentum meant that his shoulder sent Watmore spinning.
The ref pointed to the spot, and Defoe emphatically put the spot kick away.
Game on, although if you looked at the stats, logic would defy you to make sense of the scoreline.
Frustration began to creep in, but a substitution would change the game completely.
The reintroduction of Giroud.
His first touch earned Arsenal a deserved lead, and it was a first time volley from another Oxlade-Chamberlain cross.
Five minutes later, an Ozil corner was met at the front post by a leaping Giroud, who flicked it over Pickford to sew up the points.
The icing on the cake was applied by Sanchez, who showed great adaptation and technique to score the fourth from close range only two minutes after the third was scored.
There was far more to highlight that occurred during the game, but here are 5 salient points that arose from the ninety minutes:
Giroud has a vital place this season
Olivier may have slipped behind the firing Sanchez in the battle to be Arsenal’s Numero Uno striker whilst he recovered from injury, but his two goals served as a perfect reminder to fans and his manager that he will have an important role this season. Alexis deservedly holds down the spot previously filled by Giroud, but his introduction made the difference in this game. We may have still won if he were not to have come on the pitch, but his aerial ability and link-up play is nigh on unrivalled, and his runs to the front post are usually met with a great finish. This is his first game back, just imagine when he is in the swing of things.
The Ox is taking his chance
We are all aware of the boy’s talents, but Oxlade-Chamberlain has continually failed to ally consistency with his skills. Productivity on a frequency far higher than he was previously giving was the bar which he had to meet in order to really fulfill his promise. His last two games, played within three days, has seen an Ox which appears more than determined to do just that. His crosses were perfect for Alexis and Giroud, and he was effective with the ball. A player who intends to make things happen like Alex does will always lose possession, but it happened on fewer occasions and he was a constant outlet. Great to see.
Elneny rising to the occasion
His midfield partner – Coquelin – really does always give his all and you know what he is going to give you nearly every game. Elneny though, through a lack of action, had shown a few signs of ring rust in his first few games. This game though, showed the Egyptian is nearing his imposing best. At both ends of the pitch, he made his presence felt. Will he be replaced even though he is showing form though? Xhaka’s suspension has ended after this game, and Santi is back in the squad. Despite playing his part in keeping Arsenal’s winning run on track, Elneny may just be back on the bench very soon.
The bottom side are capable of beating anyone
Sunderland may have shipped four, but for 70 minutes, with a smidge of luck, they could have gotten something. This wasn’t a besmirching of our display, which was nearly complete, but a testament to the strength of the Premier League. The Black Cats will earn their first win soon, and it could come against anyone. They had fight, and they were defensively sound at times, but confidence is the blood which all teams need.
This win was perhaps more vital than we realise, seeing as November is upon us. In his twenty years at Arsenal, Wenger’s points per game in this blasted month is lower than any other, and considerably so. Just over 1.5 points per game, which is quite awful. We sit pretty near the top of the league, but any slip up will be capitalised on, especially if there are repeated mistakes like we normally make. Next up? Oh, it is only the North London Derby…….