LONDON // For Arsenal, perhaps, this was the perfect fixture to get their season back on track after the disappointment of the midweek Uefa Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.
Sunderland, their minds seemingly on next weekend’s League Cup final, against Manchester City, barely turned up, offered little more than token resistance and were beaten from the moment Olivier Giroud gave Arsenal a fifth-minute lead. Arsenal, having barely broken sweat, find themselves just a point behind the leaders Chelsea.
It has not been the easiest few days for Giroud. After revelations about a late-night meeting with a model in Arsenal’s team hotel before the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace two weeks ago, he was left out of the FA Cup win over Liverpool and saw the inexperienced Yaya Sanogo picked instead for the defeat to Bayern.
Five minutes in to his return, though, he was stroking the ball into the bottom corner after the ball had broken to him when Jack Wilshere’s surge was blocked.
His second came after 28 minutes, as he seized on Santiago Vergini’s weak back-pass and slid the ball past Vito Mannone. It was Giroud’s 12th league goal of the season and, after all the frustration and the anger that has been directed at him recently by fans, he remains a perfectly serviceable centre-forward. He is not quick, but he is intelligent in his use of his physicality.
“We had a very demanding week physically and mentally but we gave the right response today,” said Arsene Wenger. “I had no hesitation about [Giroud]’s strength of character. He did well.”
Giroud was involved in the third goal too, playing the last of three one-twos as Tomas Rosicky darted into the Sunderland box and dinked the ball over Mannone for a team goal reminiscent of that which Jack Wilshere scored against Norwich City earlier in the season.
Its impact was lessened only by the fact that Sunderland were so lacking in fight Arsenal may as well have been passing round traffic cones.
A brief flicker of energy after half time awakened vague thoughts that Sunderland might mount some kind of challenge, but that was extinguished as Laurent Koscielny, who later left the field with a back injury, was left disgracefully unmarked to head in a right-wing corner.
Wenger said he should be available next week, as should Mesut Ozil who was left out of the squad altogether – ostensibly with a thigh injury, although the theory persists he was dropped after a poor display against Bayern.
Emanuele Giaccherini struck with nine minutes remaining to end Arsenal’s two-and-a-half-month run without conceding a league goal at home, but other than that it meant little.
“We were poor in many things,” said Sunderland’s manager Gus Poyet. “Technically we were poor, in terms of the reading game, we were second-best to second balls, in reactions, in power, in everything.”
Sunderland remain in the relegation zone but can at least console themselves with the thought that if they were going to be distracted, it is probably better to have done it against a side who would probably have beaten them anyway.