Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland: Jordan Pickford sensational but late defensive collapse costs Cats again

Sanchez opened the scoring in the second half
Sanchez opened the scoring in the second half
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There was a clear improvement, for the most part, but the closing stages were depressingly familiar.

Sunderland overrun and ultimately outclassed.

Pickford was in excellent form again

Pickford was in excellent form again

Sunderland's players were called out for their running, or lack of, at the weekend, and with Lee Cattermole back to lead the way, they stepped up.

Seb Larsson, with a willing runner alongside him, was another to provide the industry if not the defining quality.

They may have landed a result had they taken one of their first half chances, but it was a familiar story as they ran spectacularly out of steam in the second half.

A lapse in concentration from Fabio Borini allowed Ozil to cross for Sanchez, and from there on in the hosts, so often sedate in the opening exchanges, were irresistible.

Sanchez added a second and had it not been for an utterly sensational, memorable shot stopping display by Jordan Pickford, it could have been many more.

A wretched season this has been, another deflating defeat this was, but his emergence will love long in the memory.

Perhaps it was little surprise that this game took so long to catch fire.

The teams entered a Stadium surely little more than three quarters full, an atmosphere of nattering more akin to the opening morning of a test match.

Sunderland, moving to a back three with Billy Jones at centre-half, looked uneasy as Arsenal's fluid front line began to move the ball around with extreme comfort.

Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin both fired wide over the bar from distance, while Granit Xhaka had two speculative and fairly unthreatening efforts from range in the opening 20.

Arsenal did have the ball in the net just nine minutes in, though referee Roger East was quick to disallow the goal, Sanchez's long range effort clearly wrong-footing Jordan Pickford after striking Olivier Giroud's arm.

Sunderland were indebted to Pickford, who quickly put Saturday's error behind him, rapid off his line as Arsenal carved their way in behind the back five at will.

His superb kicking also forced Hector Bellerin into taking a yellow card for handball, Defoe threatening to go clear as the Sunderland stopper delivered one of his trademark bullet passes from hand.

The Black Cats settled, Arsenal's passing and movement dropping in intensity.

The visitors even forced two saves from Petr Cech, the first as Ndong and Defoe played a smart one-two on the left hand touchline. Ndong advanced into the box and forced the 34-year-old to push his effort wide.

Moments later Ndong turned provider as Defoe almost fired an effort across him and into the bottom corner.

Sunderland were ending the half well, although Arsenal missed two excellent opportunities to score. Mesut Ozil's though ball found Bellerin racing on on goal, but his finish was wild, into the side netting form a matter of yards. On the stroke of the whistle Rob Holding found himself free from a corner, but headed straight at Pickford.

If much of the hosts play in the first half had been pedestrian, their approach to the start of the second half was outright negligent.

Under no pressure, Nacho Monreal skewed a back pass towards his own goal, forcing Cech to scramble backwards and turn wide. An indirect free-kick was given, right on the touchline and inside the box. Seb Larsson chipped it into the six-yard box where Xhaka turned over the bar.

A Larsson free-kick found Billy Jones free at the back post as Sunderland applied some pressure, but he could not force his second diving headed goal in as many weeks, heading down into the floor and away from goal.

Arsenal began to assert some dominance in possession and territory, but Sunderland, led by Seb Larsson and in particular the excellent Lee Cattermole, continued to harry and press at every turn.

It was not until the 67th minute that they forced their first meaning effort of the half, Olivier Giroud's glancing header drifting just wide of Jordan Pickford's far post.

As so often in this wretched season, one lapse in concentration and the points were gone.

A corner was cleared to the edge of the Sunderland box, where Xhaka picked up. Sunderland were in no obvious danger, but Borini let Ozil drift to the byline unmarked. The chip from Xhaka was pinpoint, Ozil crossing for Sanchez to turn home.

Sanchez was almost at the double a minute late, Pickford scrambling back to just turn the Chilean's looping header over the bar. His save from Xhaka's low drive was even more impressive, the 23-year-old back to his very best form after an uncharacteristic error at the weekend.

He saved again to deny Giroud from a firm header, but on this occasion Sanchez turned home the rebound to make it 2-0. Sunderland, by this point, were gone.

Pickford's heroics continued, a memorable performance defined by a stunning reflex save from Mustafi, leaping to turn onto the bar.

He did not deserve to be on the losing side. A familiar refrain.