If Arsenal were seeking a taste of what’s to come next season then Tuesday night’s game against Sunderland provided the perfect preview. Stale, dour and apathetic are all words to describe what both sets of fans witnessed during the course of 90 minutes, but could equally be applied to the atmosphere inside a below capacity Emirates Stadium.
It was a game which didn’t set the pulses racing until Alexis Sanchez scored his 22nd Premier League goal of the season with 20 minutes to go before he added his 23rd soon after.
Europa League football beckons at the Emirates unless Arsene Wenger’s side are gifted a top four place by Liverpool, who only need to win their final game of the campaign against already relegated Middlesbrough to return to the Champions League at Arsenal’s expense.
The Gunners have required other teams to slip up in previous seasons but a positive result for Boro against Jurgen Klopp’s men seems difficult to envisage. The only other way Arsenal could sneak into the Champions League is if Manchester City lose to Watford and Wenger’s side swing a -5 goal difference in the process. Once again, this is highly unlikely.
Without Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal wouldn’t even have a prayer at this stage. He has been their best player by far this season with 23 goals and 10 assists in the top flight. Many of these strikes have arrived since he reverted back to his favoured position on the left flank. The 28-year-old is one goal behind Premier League top-scorer Romelu Lukaku in the league and his personal fight for the Golden Boot will go down to the wire when the Gunners face Everton on the final day of the season.
The Gunners would be much worse off without the goals of their Chilean maestro and it could be argued that the tricky forward has saved Wenger’s job with his match-winning performances in 2017.
Sanchez has been directly involved in more goals than any other player in the Premier League this season, thus underlining just how good he has been in a sometimes struggling side.
Mesut Ozil sent a reminder to the Arsenal hierarchy that he is equally as important to the club with another assist for his fellow forward. The duo have linked up impressively in recent games and their contributions mean that Arsenal still have some hope on the final day.
While it looks unlikely that Wenger will pull off another great escape and qualify for the Champions League, a passage into the Europa League and the potential to pick up silverware in the showpiece FA Cup final does at least present an opportunity to salvage what has been a campaign full of unfulfilled expectations. If things were depressing enough, just imagine where Arsenal would be without Alexis.