Jordan Pickford returned to the scene of his Sunderland debut last night, having made his first appearance for the Black Cats against the Gunners in the FA Cup in January 2016.
Since being handed his chance by then boss Sam Allardyce, Pickford has gone on to establish himself as Sunderland’s number one stopper.
For many, this will be their final Premier League appearance at the Emirates Stadium, with Sunderland returning to the Championship after 10-years in the top flight.
But Pickford won’t be among them. He is destined for greatness and will inevitably make a big summer move to remain in the top flight.
Sunderland will need to cash in on one of their prized assets to help balance the books.
There is set to be a bidding war this summer for his services, with Everton understood to be leading the chase for his signature.
But don’t bet against him gracing the Emirates Stadium in an Arsenal shirt next season.
Arsene Wenger is known to be an admirer of the Washington-born ace, even if he did distance himself from a summer move post-match last night.
And he will have been impressed by a stunning performance, Pickford bouncing back well from his mistake which gifted Swansea City the lead at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Against Arsenal, the team as a whole responded to the tidal wave of criticism from fans, pundits and their own manager alike with a much-improved display. Defensive errors, sadly, again letting them down late on.
For 70-plus minutes though, Arsenal were kept at bay, frustrated by the Sunderland defence, with Pickford at the heart of the action.
Arsenal did have the ball in the net eight minutes in but it was ruled out after Olivier Giroud’s hand had diverted Alexis Sanchez’s effort from distance in. Sanchez, though, would have the last laugh.
Pickford’s first big save came 10 minutes in, spreading himself to deny Giroud after he was played in by Aaron Ramsey.
The 23-year-old was also called upon to save from Ramsey, flicking behind his first-time volley, while also saving from Rob Holding as Arsenal poured forward.
Nothing flash but Pickford was back to his most confident and decisive best. His decision-making was excellent in terms of when to punch and when to catch.
Cool, calm and collected under pressure.
With Sunderland’s defence proving hard to beat, Arsenal brought on the cavalry as the second half wore on, former Sunderland loanee Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi adding to the Gunners’ firepower.
Pickford, again in the thick of the action, got down well to his right to palm away Welbeck’s goal-bound effort. Finally though, in the 72nd minute, his goal was breached.
There was little he could do about it as unmarked Sanchez knocked the ball in from close range.
Pickford was soon called into action again, denying Granit Xhaka and Iwobi in the same passage of play before Sanchez again beat him from close range.
Pickford made a brilliant save from Giroud, but, from the deflection, Sanchez – again not being marked properly – doubled the lead from close range.
Another superb save to deny defender Shkodran Mustafi late on capped off a fine individual performance, even if was again on the wrong end of a defeat.
His kicking at times was a little off radar compared to his usual exceptionally high standard, but overall Pickford’s performance couldn’t be faulted.
His opposite number, Petr Cech, had a few words with him at full-time, no doubt praising his performance.
Sunderland’s goal was peppered with shots – 36 attempts in total – and they had Pickford to thank for it not turning into a cricket score. He made 11 saves in all.
His performances this season have been one of the few highlights of a miserable campaign and potential suitors can’t help but have been impressed.
The queue for his signature should and will no doubt be lengthy. Sunderland need to make sure they get top dollar for one of the brightest talents in English football.
£30million plus? He’s worth every penny.