DAVID MOYES once again hailed Jordan Pickford’s shot-stopping heroics after Sunderland suffered a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, but admitted he is starting to “sound like a salesman” with the goalkeeper seemingly certain to leave Wearside this summer.
Pickford made a remarkable 11 saves as Sunderland briefly threatened to spring a huge surprise at the Emirates, and while he was eventually beaten by two goals from Alexis Sanchez inside the final 17 minutes, his performance provided further evidence of his abundant quality.
That quality will almost certainly see him move on in the wake of Sunderland’s relegation, with Everton heading a long list of clubs keen to secure his services.
Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal will not be in the market for a new goalkeeper this summer, but Moyes accepts that by constantly praising Pickford, he is making it all the more difficult to hold on to the highly-rated 23-year-old.
“We had a very good goalkeeper tonight, who was outstanding,” said the Sunderland boss. “I don’t really know what else I can say about him, and I think people probably think I sound like a salesman whenever I talk him up. It’s not that, and I’m hardly saying anything about him now.
“He made a mistake a week on Saturday, and it was only the second mistake he’s made. He’s a young goalkeeper, in only his first season in the Premier League, and he has been magnificent. He’s a bit old-fashioned, and he makes saves you don’t expect goalkeepers to make. This boy has made numerous for us this season, he’s been really good.”
While Sunderland’s defeat means they are now guaranteed to finish the season at the foot of the table, Moyes’ side at least restored a modicum of pride after they had been roundly condemned for the desultory weekend display against Swansea.
Sunderland mounted a spirited rear-guard effort in the face of some incessant Arsenal attacking, with Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong performing especially impressively in midfield.
“I thought the team did a lot of good things,” said Moyes. “I thought they showed great character. We set up to make it difficult for Arsenal, and I thought for long periods we did. Not only that, we created opportunities and the players worked really hard.
“More importantly, I thought we passed the ball well when we got it, and I thought the players played like we’ve probably played for eight or nine weeks. But because we can’t get the first goal, it makes it really difficult. If we’d got the first goal tonight, maybe we would have given ourselves something to hold on to.”
Prior to the game, Wenger had questioned the attitude of some of the Premier League’s lesser lights, accusing them of lacking motivation in the final weeks of the season.
Sunderland’s players could not be accused of ‘being on the beach’ last night, and Moyes feels the Arsenal boss overstepped the mark when he questioned players’ professionalism.
“I think that’s an insult to footballers,” he said. “I’ve been a player myself, and I’d hate that anybody was questioning that I wasn’t going to be playing, or I was going to chuck it. That would probably get my goat more than anything.
“I don’t think the Sunderland players did that. We didn’t play well on Saturday and we know that, it didn’t look good enough and it wasn’t good enough. But I think tonight you would say Sunderland had a go and tried to score at times, even though we were outclassed in the end by a better footballing team than we were.”
Arsenal’s victory means they still have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League, although the odds are stacked against them as they head into the final game of the season.
The Gunners are a point behind Liverpool and three points behind Manchester City, but could still make the top four if either of those sides slip up.
“It was a game we absolutely had to win,” said Wenger. “We have 72 points now, and must focus on getting 75. We had to wait to get into our rhythm, but in the last 25 or 30 minutes, it happened.
“We have won more games than last year, and already have one more point than last year. We have gone through a difficult period away from home, but if you look at our home record, it is quite good. It is away from home that we have lost our chance to win the championship.
“I have answered for 20 years the question about the top four being nothing special, so I am surprised that is such a big deal now. Let’s give ourselves every chance. I don’t think about the percentages, I just think, ‘Let’s win the game against Everton’. I think we have a good chance.”