Arsenal have ensured the race for a top four finish will run until the final day of the season after claiming a 2-0 victory over relegated Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners are back to being within a point of 4th placed Liverpool, courtesy of a brace from Alexis Sanchez, meanwhile also being three points behind 3rd placed Manchester City before this weekend’s fixture.
Nothing but a win would suffice beforehand for the North Londoners, who started right on cue through an Alexis shot that had found its way past Jordan Pickford in the 8th minute, but the early goal would soon be chalked off following a deflection from Olivier Giroud’s arm.
Giroud then found himself in half a yard of space inside the box moments later before the on-rushing Pickford did just enough to deter the Frenchman’s shot from finding the back of the net.
The ex-Montpellier striker was left claiming a penalty in the 22nd minute when a firm grapple from Lamine Koné inside the box impeded him from reaching Mesut Özil’s cross, with the referee ignoring such calls for an Arsenal spot-kick.
A measured pass from Didier N’Dong led Jermain Defoe into the channels, with the Englishman afforded enough time to fire a low shot at goal on his weaker foot before being denied by Petr Cech in the 38th minute.
Héctor Bellerín then teared away through the right flank with danger in the 43rd minute following a threaded pass by Özil, but the Spaniard could only find the side-netting when opting to surprise the keeper with a shot from a tight angle.
Özil was at the heart of it all again with a lofted cut-back for Aaron Ramsey to volley at goal, forcing a save out of Pickford.
The Gunners would go close once more from the subsequent corner, but Rob Holding could get little behind his free header that fell directly into the goalkeeper’s grasp.
Arsenal returned to the second half with a fright, as Nacho Monreal’s loose pass to back to Cech caused the goalkeeper to guide the ball out with an outstretched hand and concede an indirect free-kick inside the box, later dealt with by Granit Xhaka’s headed clearance.
Giroud neared Arsenal’s anticipated opener with a glancing header from Rob Holding’s cross, but the striker’s effort would go on to skip past the far post in the 65th minute.
Alexis was next in line to find himself in a heading position, getting his execution all wrong, but Danny Welbeck would offer Pickford a sterner test with a low drive from the edge of the box, forcing the keeper to parry the effort wide.
Through a searching pass from Granit Xhaka, Arsenal would finally manage to pick-lock Sunderland’s deep-block defence, as a deft touch from Özil from the left set Alexis for an easy tap in.
A couple of efforts from Xhaka and Alex Iwobi set the Gunners closer to a second, but it was Alexis who delivered again when required in the 81st minute. A deep cross from Shkodran Mustafi was hooked out of the air brilliantly by Giroud and into Alexis’ path, leaving the Chilean to finish from close range and double Arsenal’s lead.
Mustafi was unlucky not to have claimed Arsenal’s third of the night, seeing his headed effort tipped onto the bar by the ever-impressive Pickford in the 85th minute before the referee’s final whistle concluded a 2-0 victory for Arsène Wenger’s men.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Rob Holding (7), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Nacho Monreal (5); Héctor Bellerín (6), Aaron Ramsey (6), Granit Xhaka (7), Kieran Gibbs (4); Mesut Özil (8), Olivier Giroud (6), Alexis Sanchez (7)
Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Alex Iwobi (6), Theo Walcott (5)