By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Alexis scored his 22nd and 23rd Premier League goals of the season as we kept the pressure on for a top-four spot by beating Sunderland on Tuesday.
This result may not help us break into the coveted Champions League berths, but at least it keeps us in the hunt going into the final round of fixtures this weekend.
It also saw us continue to build momentum ahead of the Emirates FA Cup quarter-final by securing our seventh win in eight games, and our fourth on the bounce.
In truth, it was frustrating going for much of this game as, despite our dominance, we struggled to beat Jordan Pickford in the Sunderland goal.
Hector Bellerin and Aaron Ramsey went close in the first half, while Olivier Giroud and substitute Danny Welbeck would also try their luck before we made the breakthrough.
Inevitably it was Alexis who got it, but it owed much to the brilliant build-up play between Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil that laid it on a plate for the Chilean.
Alexis grabbed his second nine minutes from the end as he reacted quickest after Pickford saved from Giroud at close range, and that was that.
Another game, another win – now we just need to finish the job against Everton this weekend and keep our fingers crossed.
With our hopes of securing a top-four place now reliant on Liverpool slipping up against Middlesbrough on Sunday, we knew all we could do was win our two remaining matches and hope for the best.
In that respect, the already-relegated Sunderland were welcome visitors and they arrived in north London having never recorded a Premier League win in these parts.
Arsene Wenger opted to make two changes to his side, with the first seeing Kieran Gibbs replace Laurent Koscielny, as he manages the calf issue he sustained against Manchester United.
The other saw Aaron Ramsey, so effective off the bench at Stoke, handed a starting berth in place of Francis Coquelin.
A STRONG START
We wasted little time in setting about the visitors, passing the ball about slickly as we pulled the Black Cats out of position in the opening exchanges.
Alexis soon had a goal disallowed for a handball in the build-up, before Olivier Giroud was denied by a smart save by Jordan Pickford and Hector Bellerin saw his follow-up deflected into the side netting.
It was one-way traffic, and it was Bellerin’s turn to try his luck next as he swept a left-footed drive just over the bar after cutting in from the right, while Granit Xhaka was just off target with a firm shot minutes later.
SUNDERLAND FIND THEIR FEET
It seemed like a goal was a matter of time, but slowly Sunderland began to tighten up at the back and restrict our sight of goal.
Indeed, the visitors nearly took the lead just after the half-hour mark when Didier N’Dong was put through on goal but Petr Cech stood tall and denied the Gabon international.
Cech has been in fine form of late, and he was called into action again moments later when Jermain Defoe worked some space in the area and sent a flashing shot at goal that the Arsenal goalkeeper did well to palm away.
GUNNERS BACK ON TOP
We ended the half like we started it though as he laid siege to the visitors’ goal with Bellerin first to go close after being played in on goal, but he could only find the side netting from close range.
Next to have a go was Ramsey, whose flicked effort inside the area was palmed away by Pickford, with Rob Holding heading straight at the Sunderland corner from the resulting corner.
But there was to be no way through – and we had it all to do after the restart.
CECH SPARES NACHO’S BLUSHES
The game got off to a peculiar start after the restart as, almost immediately, Nacho Monreal sent a firm backpass towards goal that had Cech scrambling across goal to desperately palm away.
Sunderland protested and an indirect free kick was given just to the right of the goal, but their lofted effort was cleared from under the bar before any of the Black Cats could head in the opener.
We responded well, with Ramsey – at the heart of much of our attacking play – letting fly with a low drive that was cleared away off the line by Javier Manquillo, before Giroud glanced a header just wide not long afterwards.
ALEXIS MAKES THE BREAKTHROUGH
With frustration growing, Wenger shuffled his pack, switching to a back four as Alex Iwobi came on for Kieran Gibbs and Danny Welbeck replaced Ramsey.
It nearly paid immediate dividends too, as Welbeck received the ball just outside the area and let fly with a shot that Pickford got enough on to put it behind for a corner.
But from the set piece, we patiently passed it around until Xhaka released Ozil in the area with a delightful lofted pass and the German squared for Alexis to convert from close range.
The sense of relief around the Emirates was audible, and the crowd responded by serenading the Chilean as he celebrated his 22nd Premier League goal of a stellar season.
Alexis would go close soon afterwards, while Xhaka and Iwobi were then denied by Pickford in quick succession as we looked for the killer blow.
ALEXIS WRAPS IT UP
We kept knocking on the door though, and eventually the goal that sealed our fourth straight top-flight win arrived.
It came as Shkodran Mustafi whipped a fine ball in from the right, Giroud hooked it at goal and Picked palmed it up and away. But Alexis, who else, was racing in and had the simple task of heading it into the unguarded net.
Game, set and match.
We could not add to the scoreline in the driving rain of the closing stages, but the hard work had been done: 37 down, one to go.
Everton await us on Sunday – all we can do is win that, and hope for a favour from Calum Chambers’ Middlesbrough at Anfield.
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