Sanchez, Ozil keep Arsenal's Champions League dream alive
Arsenal will take their fight for Champions League football to the final day of the season after Alexis Sanchez scored twice in a 2-0 win over Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
Manager Arsene Wenger's side were greeted by the unfamiliar sight of a half-empty Emirates as supporters protested a poor season by staying away; those absent missed a match in which the home side had an astonishing 36 shots, and visiting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was in incredible form.
However, even the inspired Pickford could not prevent Sanchez from leaving his mark on another match. The forward opened the scoring in the 72nd minute when Granit Xhaka played a sumptuous pass over the top, Mesut Ozil squared on the half-volley, and Sanchez tapped home for his 22nd league goal of the season. It was 23 on 81 minutes when he headed in despite a suggestion of offside.
The victory keeps Arsenal in fifth place in the Premier League going into the final weekend. In their season finale, Arsenal host Everton and must better fourth-place Liverpool's result at home versus Middlesbrough to make the top four -- with a tiny chance of a playoff to separate the two teams. Third-place Manchester City can technically be caught as well, but Arsenal would need a goal-difference swing of five. City beat West Brom on Tuesday.
Although Pickford's excellence meant the margin of victory was nowhere near what it should have been, Arsenal got the win they needed to keep their challenge alive. The 3-4-2-1 formation allowed Arsenal to dominate the first half, and Ozil had one of his better nights. Sanchez continues to look a world-class talent and Rob Holding impressed again. This was a forceful performance, and a fifth win in six.
If Arsenal do fail to qualify for the Champions League and goal difference is a factor, they may come to rue the remarkable resilience of Pickford. Playing in front of a sparse crowd was also a reminder of how bad this season has been.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- How much credit can you really get for masterminding a win over this Sunderland side? Still, Wenger got the performance and result he wanted, and that switch to 3-4-2-1 continues to look a profitable one.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Petr Cech, 6 -- Was a virtual bystander for the opening 30 minutes but looked sharp when denying both Didier N'Dong and Jermain Defoe in the space of four minutes. Did his job.
DF Rob Holding, 7 -- The move to a back three has had the unlikely outcome of making him an important player, and Holding looked composed at the back again and trotted forward in attack on occasion. He failed to score with a free header right at the end of the first half.
DF Shkodran Mustafi, 6 -- Laurent Koscielny was missing due to an injury, so it was up to Mustafi to organise the defence, and his positioning looked suspect at times. Had a shot cleared just in front of the goal line on 59 minutes and even hit the woodwork late on.
DF Nacho Monreal, 6 -- Threw some chaos into the occasion two minutes into the second half when his awful back pass forced Cech into a sprawling save that gave away an indirect free kick deep in the box. Sunderland failed to score. Otherwise fine.
MF Hector Bellerin, 6 -- Got another chance with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out injured. Bellerin was booked for a cynical handball in the first half and whacked one shot into the side netting on a typical venture forward.
MF Aaron Ramsey, 7 -- Having three centre-backs behind him gives Ramsey licence to roam, and it suits him. He was influential in attack and unlucky not to score after some fine interplay with Ozil on 45 minutes. It was a shame when injury forced him off.
MF Granit Xhaka, 7 -- Pinged some of his trademark long passes around the pitch, and a gorgeous lofted chip over the defence freed Ozil to set up the opening goal. Xhaka impresses when he has time on the ball.
MF Kieran Gibbs, 5 -- Doesn't look up to the required standard as a wing-back, and his removal for Alex Iwobi helped Arsenal improve.
FW Mesut Ozil, 8 -- He drifted inside from the right of the attack to good effect and was heavily involved in shaping Arsenal's attacking play. Played a crucial role in the opening goal as he gave the ball to Xhaka, then ran into the box to deliver a perfect cross to Sanchez.
FW Alexis Sanchez, 8 -- Had no less than nine attempts in another dominant display. Just when it seemed Arsenal might fail to beat the visiting keeper, though, Sanchez tapped in from Ozil's cross to make it 1-0 and then headed bravely in to make it 2-0.
FW Olivier Giroud, 6 -- While the 3-4-2-1 has functioned pretty well, Giroud doesn't always look comfortable in the central role, and he suffered some exasperating moments. He did play a role in the second goal as his header was palmed in the direction of Sanchez.
Danny Welbeck (for Ramsey, 68), 6 -- Got quickly into the action as he had a firm low effort kept out by the excellent Pickford. Didn't look sure where he was playing.
Alex Iwobi (for Gibbs, 69), 6 -- Added some calm and craft.
Theo Walcott (for Giroud, 85), N/A -- Did little.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport