Giroud hits double as Arsenal beat Sunderland and keep up pursuit of Chelsea
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Premier League: Arsenal 4 Sunderland 1
Olivier Giroud scored twice on his return to the side as Arsenal demolished Sunderland to maintain the pressure on league leaders Chelsea.
The Gunners’ top scorer, surprisingly omitted in favour of Yaya Sanogo for their midweek defeat by Bayern Munich, netted a first-half brace before Tomas Rosicky made it 3-0 at half-time.
Sunderland, who appeared to have one eye on their Wembley appearance next weekend, improved after the break but conceded a fourth goal to Laurent Koscielny before Emmanuele Giaccherini hit a late consolation.
Giroud marked his comeback with a goal after just five minutes as Jack Wilshere played a one-two with Rosicky and set up the Frenchman to stroke home a first-time finish.
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Apart from a rare break, when Ki Sung-Yeung set up Marcos Alonso for a cross-shot that almost caught Wojciech Szczesny out, Sunderland never looked like getting into the game.
The Gunners dominated possession without extending the lead as their former goalkeeper Vito Mannone denied Rosicky and Santi Cazorla and also leapt to push a 25-yard bullet from Lukas Podolski over the bar.
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When the second goal finally did arrive, just after the half-hour mark, it came courtesy of a Sunderland error as Santiago Vergini, attempting to return the ball to Mannone, instead presented it to Giroud, who tucked it beyond the bemused keeper.
Bacary Sagna and Podolski both went close with efforts from distance, but it was Rosicky who notched Arsenal’s third, applying the finishing touch to an exquisite attacking move three minutes before half-time.
Wilshere and Cazorla laid the foundations with their one-touch passing before Giroud’s flick found Rosicky racing through to dink the ball neatly over the advancing Mannone.
The Black Cats briefly upped their game at the start of the second half and Fabio Borini might have pulled a goal back, firing a shot on the turn that Szczesny beat away.
But normal service was resumed on 58 minutes as the hapless Vergini sliced Sagna’s cross behind and, from Cazorla’s corner, Koscielny rose to send a powerful header into the net.
The Gunners defender went off injured soon afterwards, forcing the home side into a reshuffle of the back four as Sagna moved across to the centre and Mathieu Flamini rolled back the years as left-back.
Ki and Seb Larsson both went close for Sunderland, but the new-look defence was finally breached with nine minutes remaining as Szczesny punched out a Larsson free-kick to substitute Giaccherini, who rifled it back past him and into the bottom corner.
Arsenal substitute Serge Gnabry might also have added his name to the scoresheet after Wilshere teed him up, but fired the chance straight at Mannone.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Flamini 68), Monreal (Jenkinson 45); Wilshere, Arteta; Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski; Giroud.