Alexis Sanchez kept alive Arsenal’s fading hopes of qualifying for the Champions League as the Chilean broke Sunderland’s stubborn resistance to seal a crucial 2-0 win on Tuesday.
Alexis Sanchez tapped in Mesut Ozil’s square pass to the relief of those inside a sparsely populated Emirates Stadium.
As Arsenal increased in urgency, Sanchez bundled in Olivier Giroud’s cut-back to renew their hopes of a top-four finish for a 21st successive season.
Despite having 36 attempts at goal – the most in a Premier League game since 2003 – the Gunners could not wipe out fourth-placed Liverpool’s superior goal difference.
Arsenal are a point behind the Reds – who are two goals better off – ahead of Sunday’s final matches.
Arsene Wenger’s men must beat seventh-placed Everton and hope the Reds slip up against relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield.
Wenger’s approval ratings are at an all-time low with Arsenal’s disenchanted supporters and it will be fascinating to see if he decides to stay if the top four proves beyond reach.
Wenger had urged fans not to boycott the Sunderland fixture in their latest protest against the Gunners boss, but when the Frenchman emerged from the tunnel before kick-off he was greeted with swathes of empty red seats around the Emirates.
Sanchez thought he’d given Arsenal an early lead when his 20-yard strike flashed past Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, only for a linesman’s flag to curtail his celebrations.
Olivier Giroud was the culprit after flicking the ball goalwards with his arm, and the Arsenal striker wasted a chance to redeem himself moments later when his close-range effort was pushed away by Pickford.
Wenger moaned this week that Arsenal’s top-four rivals were benefiting from playing teams with their minds already on their holidays, ignoring the fact the Gunners enjoyed victories over a Manchester United side more concerned with the Europa League final and a Stoke team with nothing to play for.
Sunderland, losers in nine of their last 12 games and relegated last month, were hardly a step up in class.