Three second half goals in the span of seven minutes gave Arsenal a comfortable 4-1 win after Jermain Defoe had equalized from the penalty spot. Arsenal looked to be cruising after Alexis did brilliantly to beat out Lamine Kone and head home Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross in the 19th minute. Sunderland had done nothing to trouble our defense until Didier Ndong's long ball towards Duncan Watmore hit off Mustafi's back and into the path of Watmore to break through on goal. Cech clipped the legs of the Sunderland winger and Defoe dispatched the resulting penalty coolly.
It briefly felt like it was going to be one of those maddening Arsenal games we seem so prone to produce where we fail to convert dominance into actual goals and get undone by the only chance the opposition creates all game. That feeling didn't last long however thanks to Olivier Giroud. The French striker scored a prototypical Giroud goal just two minutes after coming on when he swung a foot at Kieran Gibbs's low cross into the back. Five minutes later he added a second when he looped a header from Ozil's corner over Jordan Pickford after making a run to the front post.
It was great seeing the oft-derided Giroud produce in such a big way in his first meaningful league minutes of the season. After an unconvincing start to the season the Alexis as #9 transition has worked really well and it's difficult to envision a scenario where Giroud becomes the regular starter at striker again. But he displayed what he brings to the side when he's at his best. His physical presence allows us to vary our attack and give opposition defenses something different to think about.
While Alexis drops deep to get on the ball and combines excellently with short passing combinations around the penalty area, Giroud gives us a target to aim at when we get the ball in wide positions. His hold up play can also be an important asset when we're looking to see out wins. As brilliant as Alexis is, he can give the ball away cheaply at times. Having a striker that can win a lot of hopeful, longer balls against big center backs and draw fouls could help us prevent opposition transitions from defense to offense where our defense can be left vulnerable.
The finishing from both strikers was different class and was the key difference between the 0-0 against Middlesbrough and the Sunderland win. None of our first three goals came from guilt-edged chances. They were half or even quarter chances that Giroud and Alexis just did excellently to convert. On the road in the Premier League you'll need that type of ruthless finishing. It was something we were lacking for parts of last season with Alexis and Giroud in poor form. The run of three consecutive games without scoring from mid January to early February stands out as a defining stretch when our chances at the title slipped away. Avoiding another similar scoring slump will be key this season and having Giroud, Alexis and Walcott all in goal scoring form at the moment bodes well.
Moyes predictably set his side out in a 4-5-1 with Jack Rodwell shielding in front of the center backs with Ndong to his right and Steven Pienaar to his left. Duncan Watmore was on the left wing, Wahbi Khazri was on the right. Defoe started as the lone striker. John O'Shea and Kone partnered at center back. Billy Jones replaced Javier Manquillo at right back, Patrick van Aanholt was at left back.
Arsene Wenger was without Theo Walcott, Nacho Monreal and Santi Cazorla through injury though all three should be ready to return in time for the North London Derby. Granit Xhaka was serving the final game of his three match suspension for the red card he picked up against Swansea. Lucas Perez is out longer term with ankle ligament damage suffered in the midweek win over Reading in the EFL Cup. Gibbs replaced Monreal at left back. Coquelin and Elneny once again partnered at the base of midfield. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Walcott on the right.
Sunderland press, play high line
At times Sunderland pressed higher up the pitch than I was expecting and played a relatively high line. That was particularly surprising given the presence of the aging and never particularly quick John O'Shea at center back and the strategy played into our hands early. In the 14th minute Coquelin made a run past the back four from deep in midfield and was played through by Sanchez. Coq's first touch let him down but Sunderland should have viewed that as a warning. Just a minute later Iwobi nearly got in behind then we made the breakthrough in the 19th when Ox got the ball in loads of space on the right and was able to drive forward and pick out Alexis.
By now teams should recognize that we are at our most dangerous offensively when the game is open and we have space in behind the defense to run into. Boro prevented both of those things from happening last weekend and Moyes probably should have done a better job of getting some ideas from Aitor Karanka's approach.
I mentioned in the preview to this match how important getting an early goal would be to force Sunderland to open up a bit and leave holes in their defense for us to break into. I was expecting them to defend deep with Rodwell sitting just in between a midfield and defensive bank of four. They probably did us a favor by attempting to selectively press. Coquelin and Elneny tend to struggle to unlock sides defending in deeper blocks. Both are tidy in possession but finding penetrating forward passes against compact defenses isn't the strongest part of their respective games.
Ozil should have made it 2-0 towards the end of the second when Sunderland's high line was once again undone by a fairly straightforward ball over the top from Ox. As gifted technically as Ozil is he should have been able to lift the ball over Pickford but his chipped effort fell harmlessly into the hands of the grateful Sunderland keeper.
Predictably we were made to pay for missed chances. Mustafi had been good prior to the mistake that led to the penalty but the Sunderland goal should come as a warning in future matches of what can happen when you let inferior opposition stay in the game. One mistake and a game that Sunderland hadn't been in at all was level. Eventually we would show the required ruthlessness to put the game beyond reach and I'm nitpicking here but you'd like that to happen before the opposition gets a second half equalizer.
Wenger's subs prove vital
Both managers made attacking substitutions after Defoe's leveler that would have a massive impact on the outcome. With his side desperate for their first win Moyes sensed an opportunity to go for all three points with the crowd spurring the home side on. He brought on Adnan Januzaj for Pienaar. Januzaj moved to the right wing and Khazri came inside to replace Pienaar at the left of the midfield three.
Wenger replaced Iwobi with Giroud and moved Alexis into the left channel. Just two minutes after the change Sanchez tucked inside from the left and found space between the Sunderland lines. His movement inside opened up space for Gibbs to overlap on the touchline. Januzaj failed to track Gibbs's run and the left back picked out an inch perfect low driven cross for Giroud to tuck home.
I've criticized Wenger for his reluctance to make anything but like-for-like substitutions when we're chasing a result and waiting too long to make changes. However he deserves massive credit for his moves this weekend. Shuffling Alexis to the left where he'd be up against a very average right back in Billy Jones was a shrewd move and Giroud's introduction gave us a physical presence in the box at just the right time.
It's easy to imagine previous iterations of Arsenal folding after conceding an undeserved second half leveler on the road. It was encouraging to see the team not panic and really up the pressure to put the game beyond reach. The month of November will be a massive one for us and will give us insight into how good we actually are. We have the North London Derby then two weeks later head to Old Trafford after an international break. From there we host PSG in the Champions League in a game that could go a long way in determining who wins the group. We're all too aware of what the knockout draw can produce when we finish second. Last season we went winless in our three November matches, drawing with Spurs and Norwich and losing at West Brom. If we can pick up four points from the NLD and trip to Man United and beat PSG that'll be a massive set of results for us.
Finally I want to mention Kieran Gibbs's performance. He filled in excellently in the absence of Monreal. He led the team in chances created (3, tied with Ozil), headed clearances (5), defensive aerial duels won (5), and blocked crosses (1). He was second in attacking third passes (18), successful take ons (2), tackles (2, tied with four other Arsenal players) and clearances (7). He was third in total passes (50) and interceptions (2, tied with Mustafi and Elneny).
Monreal earned the starting left back spot by being the model of consistency. We've grown accustomed to him making so few mistakes that he often flies under the radar and his performances aren't often singled out for praise. But there have been a few times this season when he's struggled against pacey opposition wingers. This is largely attributable to the less defensive-minded Iwobi playing in front of him in left midfield. Gibbs is a bit pacier and with performances like this weekend it'll be tough for Wenger to consistently leave him out. It's a great problem to have and one that I think has created a beneficial atmosphere of friendly competition all over the pitch. Our players know that our squad is deep enough they have to perform to stay in the squad. Everyone is hungry to prove themselves when they get the opportunity to play. Some injuries are inevitable but I think we finally have enough quality all over the squad we'll be equipped to deal with absences.