The 4-1 win at the Stadium of Light on Saturday was comfortable in the end for Arsenal, but it required the Gunners to call on a returning Olivier Giroud to bag a couple of goals from the bench as Arsenal responded well to being pegged back in a game they should have won earlier than they did. Sunderland looked like a team horribly low on confidence at the bottom of the league, and up until the hosts drew level at 1-1, Arsenal never really got out of second gear. It was a dominant performance, but not a clinical one until the arrival of Giroud.
While it was disappointing to see the game go to 1-1, especially with Arsenal being by-far the better team, the way the team went through the gears was impressive. So often in games that Arsenal have dominated, they’ve then struggled to change the tempo if things start going against them. This is where the deeper squad and the ability to change the style of play comes into its own. Giroud came on, re-energised the team and gave them a different way of attacking Sunderland.
The Frenchman’s introduction moved Alexis Sanchez out to the left for the last 20 minutes of the game, but that wasn’t because the Chilean hadn’t imposed himself on the game when playing down the middle. He had been a constant nuisance to the centre-backs with clever runs and his usual tenacious style of play. Although he was at a height disadvantage, Alexis scored a thumping header to open the scoring in the first half at the end of a 22-pass move that summed up the game prior to the equaliser. Sunderland were happy to let Arsenal have possession, but didn’t keep an eye on the Gunners’ runners from midfield and didn’t close the space when they approached the box, unlike the way Middlesbrough did in the previous week. The ball eventually came to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, who out-paced Duncan Watmore and whipped in a superb cross towards the six-yard box. Alexis nipped in front of the defender and headed the ball into the top corner.
The Chilean’s excellent performance was also in spite of some indifferent refereeing from Martin Atkinson, who appeared happy to let the hosts foul Alexis without dishing out much punishment. These bizarre decisions culminated in Atkinson not awarding a penalty when Alexis was pulled down in the box, before awarding one moments later at the other end, mid-way through the second half. Shkodran Mustafi misjudged the bouncing ball, giving Watmore the chance to run towards goal. He knocked the ball past Cech, took the contact from the keeper and went down, allowing Jermain Defoe to score from the spot.
Up to that point in the second half, Arsenal had squandered chances to extend the lead, with Ozil and Oxlade-Chamberlain wasting the best openings. Giroud, who has had a difficult start to the season because of the form of others and his toe injury, made his first Premier League appearance since the beginning of September by replacing Alex Iwobi and immediately made an impact. Against Middlesbrough, Arsenal missed the option of having a big target man up front, and just a week later, the Frenchman showed why he remains a valuable asset to the club.
When the ball comes into the box from wide areas, Giroud is an expert at the one-touch finish. With Alexis linking with Kieran Gibbs on the left, Giroud headed straight towards the box and swept home Gibbs’ cross with an excellent volley to give Arsenal the lead. Then moments later, he managed to flick a header over the goalkeeper with his back to goal from a Mesut Ozil corner. In his first two touches of the game, Giroud had clinically won the game for Arsenal and killed off Sunderland. It was also brilliant to see another player rising to the challenge of those performing well ahead of them in pecking order. Oxlade-Chamberlain has registered goals and assists in the last couple of weeks and now Giroud has offered an impressive reminder of what he can bring to the team. The competition for places does seem to be bringing the best out in a lot of players in the squad, and long may it continue.
With the game won and Sunderland demoralised, Arsenal ruthlessly bagged a fourth as Alexis flicked the ball into the net from a few yards out. Kieran Gibbs hit the post before Aaron Ramsey poked the ball to Alexis in the six-yard box to finish. With three goals in less than seven minutes, Arsenal had turned a potentially tricky situation into a stroll. While it could be argued that Arsenal should have been more ruthless to not even give Sunderland a chance to get back into the game, when faced with a setback, Arsene Wenger’s team spectacularly came up with the right answers.
Arsenal have tougher fixtures coming up, but they go into the traditional tricky month of November in good shape and have attacking players finding the net while competing with each other to get into the starting XI.