Alexis Sanchez was a ray of light at an otherwise gloomy Emirates stadium as Arsenal comfortably beat West Bromwich Albion.
A first-half double for the Chilean was enough to steal the show and secure the 2-0 win, with a much-needed three points taking the edge off of a truly painful fortnight for the Gunners.
But you couldn’t help but feel that the win was tempered somewhat but the multitude of empty seats around the stadium. Clearly, many fans chose to stay away in silent protest at the spectacular downturn in fortunes this season, and the lack of atmosphere was stark.
Before the game, Arsene Wenger insisted his side would be ready to play at their best, even if there atmosphere around the ground was a negative one, and, going forward at least, they were pretty lively.
Sanchez’s opener was magnificent in its execution – a real piece of mastery.
The turn, the persistence, and the willingness to have a go from distance, it was a little piece of light amid the gloom.
Alexis was electric throughout the first half, full of energy, full of running and ideas. It was as frustrating to watch as it was inspiring. Had the whole team been as full of vigour these last six weeks, perhaps we would be looking at a march towards the title, instead of a slow, limp crawl towards fourth place.
His second goal was equally clever – taking advantage of the movement of Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud as false players in the wall to bend the ball into the bottom corner.
After a real lean period – by his own admission – Alexis returned to his best tonight – a little too late, but good to see nonetheless.
Here’s hoping he can add another five goals to his tally by the end of the season and send him into the summer break with a little something to smile about.
Restored to the starting lineup, Olivier Giroud fared well enough. After building up a head of steam around the turn of the year, the Frenchman’s eye for goal deserted him quite dramatically in the spring.
He held the ball up well on occasion, as he does, and he brought his team mates into the equation with some neat flicks. All pretty tidy.
He didn’t want for effort tonight – though it would have been nice if he could have netted, if only to create a bit of pressure on the likes of Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott.
As to the defending, it was no great shakes, in fact it was worse than that. We were caught out at set pieces on a few occasions, and there was evidence of the same carelessness in possession that has cost us so dearly in recent times.
Fortunately, a team as poor as West Brom – and they were very, very poor – proved unable to take advantage, but other teams will, and have, punished us for such slack play.
Clearly, it’s not a problem that is going to fix itself this season, it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work over the summer to drill some order into this team, if not a fresh face or two.
As to the rumoured 75th minute walkout – there didn’t seem to be much substance to it. People are entitled to their opinions, and a big chunk of empty seating clearly demonstrated that, I’m just not convinced anything over and above that was necessary.
In truth, a decent enough performance probably did enough on the night to discourage any fans thinking of taking part in the walkout – and I suspect a good deal more had no idea any such protest was planned.
All said and done, it didn’t amount to much at all. Arsenal won a game that they dared not lose and the spotlight turns now to the weekend and to Sunderland, when the pressure will be on them to do it all again.