Arsene Wenger made two changes from the team which he had picked for the last six games with Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere coming in for Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin. I had hoped for more changes in the team after the lacklustre performances against Swansea and United and I thought it was surely about time Theo Walcott got a chance. I also thought Gabriel Paulista should have been given a chance to impress, but Laurent Koscielny recovered from illness to take his place in the team.
Arsenal started so badly against Swansea and United that it could only get better and so it proved. They were still missing some tempo to their game but at least they were making a lot more chances even if they weren't the best chances and none of them were put away. The first half was certainly more promising, but still they couldn't manage a goal at home.
The second half started with Sunderland carving out some very good chances of their own and Arsenal had David Ospina to thank on three occasions when Sunderland got in behind them. The decision to play Wilshere ahead of Coquelin meant Arsenal were more vulnerable in front of their defence and Ospina prevented them from paying the price. Wilshere did reasonably well in the 67 minutes he played, but his game was far too similar to too many others for my liking.
The team is crying out for something different at the moment and Walcott seemed to offer that when he came on for Wilshere. I'm not laying the blame for Arsenal's inability to win the game at the feet of Wilshere as it was the boss who chose a team full of central players with no genuine width. Walcott isn't exactly genuine width, but he certainly offers more in that role than others when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck are both injured.
His willingness to take defenders on saw him come very close to scoring twice and I think he needs to be given a game agains West Brom on Sunday. With the cup final on the way he could be that something which Arsenal need in the open spaces of Wembley to retain the trophy they fought so hard to win last May. There's talk of Raheem Sterling coming in during the summer and Walcott possibly going the other way, but I think Arsenal should try to hold on to Walcott if they can.
In the second half Costel Pantilimon had to make a few good saves at least to deny Arsenal, but the team was still far too slow and laboured. The point Arsenal got will almost certainly mean they finish third unless United win on Sunday while Arsenal lose and United manage to turn around seven goals between them in goal difference. It's a highly unlikely scenario and it looks like third is Arsenal's and with it they will avoid the final qualifying round for next season's Champions League..
It's another chance missed for Arsenal though with only six points from their last five games and their chances of second place now a thing of the past. They have failed to score in three of those games too and all of those scoreless games were at home. It's been six years since Arsenal failed to score in three games in a row at home and their Champions League chances looked gone that season until Andrei Arshavin stepped in to save them.
At least there's still the FA Cup final to look forward to, but the prospect of that game isn't quite as appealing as it was only a few short weeks ago when Arsenal were playing so well and scoring freely. Looking at them at the moment it's hard to believe this team has scored over 100 goals this season and it's not easy to see where the next goal will come from. Théy look jaded, stale and short of ideas and the boss has to get them back into the right frame of mind by Saturday week.
First of all there's that game against West Brom on Sunday and I would expect to see a few more changes in that game with neither team having much to play for. West Brom will of course want to finish on a high and so too will Arsenal and maybe some fresh blood will give the team the impetus it's missing. At the same time a few of the other players will hopefully get a rest ahead of the cup final and be ready to show Villa what they're really made of.
After losing out on second place winning the cup has become a must if the team are to show real progress from last season. They might have finished one place above last season, but second would have been their best league position in 10 years and the FA Cup is a must to keep some momentum going ahead of next season. When it comes to next season they quite simply have to put in a genuine title challenge from first to last with the players Arsenal have and the money available to strengthen further in the summer.
Getting back to last night and what Sunderland did. It was all too predictable considering recent performances at home. That's three home games in a row when the opponents have parked the bus and Araenal failed to overcome them in each game. Sunderland were always going to play that way and the fact Arsenal didn't have a proper plan in place to counter it is what's most worrying.
Wilshere's miserable record for the season continued with Arsenal not winning a league game he has started since the opening day. I know he has missed a lot of the season through injury, but it's still a little worrying to see how the team does when he plays. It's not all down to him of course and the boss has a lot to answer for too.
At the moment he just seems to be trying to fit players in where he can rather than picking the best players for each position to suit the system he wants to play. It's a little tougher for him with some of the better players in the wide roles injured at the moment, but he has to find a way to rejuvenate the team before the cup final. They're his team playing his way and he needs to alter that way to whatever way he can to win the cup next week.
That's it for this week.
See you next week.