Arsenal made sure they kept pace with the Premier League pacesetters, Leicester, by picking up all three points on Saturday afternoon against Sunderland in a game that no-one will remember for long.
Handing the Ox a start and giving Aaron Ramsey the chance to play in the middle where we all know he is at his best, Arsene Wenger had to shuffle his pack to make up for the loss of Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez in addition to Francis Coquelin and the other 53 players out injured for Arsenal.
From the start, Arsenal were looking more than a little nervous and before 10 minutes were even on the clock, Petr Cech had ensured the Gunners did not go behind to an own goal as he pulled off a great save low down to his right. He would not get the chance to stop the next one.
Games against Sunderland are rarely anything to get excited about and this one was no different. The first half passed by with only two real talking points as Arsenal continued to be nervy at the back and out of sorts up front. But that should always be a warning to Arsenal fans when things are relatively quiet.
There was the small matter of Joel Campbell slotting home with just over 30 minutes on the clock, a cool finish through the legs of the Sunderland keeper after he picked up the ball from Mesut Ozil, assist master extraordinaire.
But yet another own goal, this time from Olivier Giroud who played the whole first half with his head up his arse, made sure that Sunderland went into the break level and if we’re honest, you could hardly feel hard done by. The free kick was rightly awarded and Giroud’s finish was, well, Arsenalesque.
Once again, Arsenal were doing the opposition’s job for them.
The second half began and initially showed no real signs of being any different to the first. Passing was laboured, movement off the ball minimal and mistakes commonplace as Arsenal looked a little bit jaded while struggling to release their handbrake.
Arsenal had Cech to thank as they were, once again, undone at a set piece with less than an hour gone. This time it was a corner that caused all sorts of problems as the ball was flicked on, but thankfully Cech was able to react quickly enough to stop Steven Fletcher giving Sam Allardyce’s men the lead.
Just a few minutes later, however, Giroud was able to make up for his own goal and poor performance up to that point with a great header from Aaron Ramsey’s pass. Showing determination to get on the end of the short cross, it was a perfect example of how deadly he can be when his head isn’t up his arse.
That goal, along with the introduction of Theo Walcott in place of the ineffectual Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, changed the mood around the ground and with their tails up the Gunners were unfortunate not to make it three from a set piece just moments later.
As Arsenal still looked shaky at the back it was time for Arsene to remove his two forward players, Giroud and Campbell, and replace them with Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers as they looked to lock up the points, playing with Theo as the lone frontman but it was Sunderland who came the closest to scoring the fourth goal, thankfully blasting over when they had the chance to go level again.
Somehow, the referee, Robert Madley, found five minutes injury time and as it looked as if it could be costly due to a little bit shambles at the back, Ramsey popped up to finally find the back of the net and secure the win.
Arsenal may have taken all the points but so many players were, once again, out of sorts and with such a lengthy injury list containing key players, they can ill-afford the players they have available to be playing so poorly if they really do have any illusions of winning the Premier League.
In saying that, Arsenal did finish the day in second place in the league that no-one, apart from Leicester, seems to want to win. Given the way results went in other matches (City lost, United drew), the day was much better than Arsenal’s performance and when you aren’t at your best, you can’t really ask for more than that.
Next up is the small matter of a trip to Greece where they must win by at least two goals (or 3-2) against Olympiacos. Play like they did against Sunderland and the Europa League and Spurs-levels of humiliation await.