SUNDERLAN (AFP) – Arsene Wenger singled-out two-goal Alexis Sanchez for praise after Arsenal avoided their worst-ever start to a season under their French manager with a comfortable 2-0 victory at Sunderland.
Chile international Sanchez, a £30 million ($50.4 million, 37.6 million euros) pre-season signing from Barcelona, took his tally to eight goals in 15 appearances for the Gunners.
Victory saw Arsenal secure just a second win in their last eight league games but meant they recorded back-to-back wins in the space of three days after a 2-1 Champions League success away to Anderlecht.
Failure to secure a fourth consecutive victory at the Stadium of Light would have condemned Arsenal to their lowest points tally after the opening nine games of a league campaign during Wenger’s 18-year reign.
But they were propelled towards this latest win by yet more woeful defending from a Sunderland side thrashed 8-0 by Southampton last time out, with Sanchez pouncing on errors by veteran centre-back Wes Brown and former Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
“Alexis Sanchez took advantage of the mistakes Sunderland made,” said Wenger.
“He has a super quality, he is quick on his feet. That’s why he wins so many balls that normal players don’t win,” added Wenger, whose side returned from the north-east eight points behind leaders Chelsea.
“His transition from offence to defence is very quick. He wins the ball back very quickly and he can take advantage of that.”
Mannone’s place is under threat after he was given a stay of execution for his part in Sunderland’s record-breaking loss at Southampton.
Wenger felt for the former keeper, saying: “Vito has been educated at Arsenal so of course I have some sympathy. He is like anyone else, his confidence has dropped a little bit because of the defeat last week.
“But he has shown his qualities since he arrived here and will show that again.”
Theo Walcott returned to Arsenal’s squad for the first time in nine months after suffering a serious knee injury in the FA Cup against Tottenham in January.
The England international wasn’t required, and remained on the bench ahead of a potential return to action next week at home to Burnley.
“Theo is fit,” Wenger said. “Physically he lacks two things — contact in the Premier League and competition. But fitness-wise there is no problem at all.”
Meanwhile Wenger was pleased by the way Arsenal coped with a tight turnaround following their trip to Belgium.
“I’m happy, because we had a difficult game on Wednesday night and came to Sunderland who had a big defeat last week. Before the game, what we wanted was the three points and we got them.
“Maybe we missed some opportunities with the final ball, but overall we are very happy to get the three points. We won at Anderlecht and we won here, two-and-a-half days later. That’s never easy.”
The hosts were left in danger of dropping into the relegation zone after a return of just one win in nine league games so far this season.
Sunderland put in a vastly-improved display compared to the one that saw them suffer such a humiliating setback at Southampton, but head coach Gus Poyet accepted they must quickly find another win to avoid coming under renewed pressure at the bottom.
“The commitment and organisation and desire compared to last week was there, but of course we made mistakes,” said Poyet. “There’s a little anger in the dressing room after the game.
“We fought hard for the result and now it’s a long week before our next game, but we know that’s part of the job.”
The former Chelsea and Uruguay midfielder added: “We’re paid to win games and we’ve only won one all season, so we have to go and win another quickly.”