Alexis Sanchez scored two goals in under ten minutes against the relegated Sunderland to keep Arsenal’s hopes alive for securing a top four finish and qualifying for the Champions League for 21st season on the trot. Emirates, which was seemingly less than its full capacity, heaved a huge sigh of relief when Alexis Sanchez pounced on a Mesut Ozil square ball from the left to break the deadlock and making sure the race for the top four goes down to the wire on the final match weekend of the season.
Sunderland frustrated the hosts for more than 70 minutes and there was a dreaded sense of inevitability and disappointment in the air. However, the man who has rescued Arsenal this season numerous times before, answered the bell once again. He struck one more time to score his 23rd goal of the campaign in the 81st minute by finishing an Olivier Giroud back-heel volley to double the hosts’ advantage on the night. The Chilean superstar leapfrogged Spurs striker Harry Kane to move into the second place in the Premier League top scorers chart.
The Gunners had a whopping 36 shots on goal – the most by a team in a Premier League game in more than 13 years, but could not score more to close the gap in terms of goal difference between themselves and Liverpool ahead of the final game of the season.
Arsenal are currently in the fifth place, a point behind fourth-placed Liverpool, who have a superior goal difference by two goals. The Merseysiders will face demoted Middlesbrough at Anfield on Sunday while Arsenal clash with the city rivals of Liverpool, seventh-placed Everton. Arsenal have to beat Everton and then pray for a Liverpool collapse against the side from Teesside to finish in the top four.
Arsenal had to labor for the win on the night with the visiting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford at his imperious best, making some impressive saves and a Sunderland defense looking rock solid. Arsenal had to win this match and win by a huge margin to maintain the pressure on its top four rivals, one of whom were playing simultaneously. A defeat here would have meant that Arsenal would not qualify for the Champions League for the first time in two decades.
Arsenal looked rudderless for much of the opening period, lacking tenacity and cutting-edge in front of the goal as they struggled to break down a stubborn Sunderland back-line despite creating 18 chances. The North London side finally opened the mark with a beautiful chipped pass by Granit Xhaka to Ozil and the German effortlessly picked out Sanchez for an easy tap-in inside the box.
Arsenal doubled their lead when Alexis Sanchez finished an effort from Giroud which bounced off Pickford’s hand right in the Chilean’s path. Arsene Wenger urged his team to continue the onslaught on the Black Cats to add to their goal tally to try and clear out the Reds’ goal difference advantage. Arsenal came agonizingly close to make it 3-0 but Shkodran Mustafi’s header ricocheted on the woodwork and the Emirates side had to be content with a 2-0 victory.