Another life for Sunderland as Arsenal eye FA Cup glory

Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0: Arsenal needed a point to all but confirm third place in the Premier League; Sunderland needed a point to escape relegation; three of the last six games between the teams at the Emirates had ended goalless. Can you guess what the score was yet?

In the end both teams got what they needed. But it is a result that will be remembered far more fondly in the north-east than in north London given that Arsenal have now gone three games at home without scoring a goal and can no longer catch Manchester City, who are confirmed as runners-up to Chelsea.

Perhaps, given time for reflection, Arsenal will consider this a season of progress, especially if they go on to beat Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on May 30. But it didn’t exactly feel like a party.

It will be a bit different up in Sunderland, who defended doggedly with John O’Shea outstanding, missed chances of their own in the second half, and ultimately completed a great escape that seemed almost impossible until Dick Advocaat replaced Gus Poyet in the dugout at the Stadium of Light.

Their hard-earned point means Hull, who face Manchester United at home, and Newcastle, who take on West Ham at St James’ Park, will battle it out for survival on Sunday as the Black Cats dream of sea, sun, and sangria.

The visitors started cautiously because although Advocaat included three strikers in his line-up, only Danny Graham made it into Arsenal’s half in the opening 45 minutes, with Jermain Defoe spending more time at left-back and Connor Wickham hiding somewhere in midfield.

Such was Arsenal’s domination of the ball, the first half resembled an extended training routine, and somehow the nine cones of Sunderland did a good job of keeping the home side out.

Having suffered the same fate against Swansea last week — when the visitors held on for dear life and then delivered a sting in the tail to win 1-0 — you would have thought Wenger’s side would have learned a lesson. Yet when Sunderland brought on Steven Fletcher and Jack Rodwell after the break it looked as though history could repeat itself.

David Opsina had to produce an excellent reflex save to deny Fletcher a shock opener, then he smothered an effort from van Aanholt who had miraculously made it over the halfway line before denying Fletcher again on the break. But there was nothing he could do after 70 minutes when Fletcher, looking offside, was found by a Rodwell pass but somehow dinked his effort over the bar from close range.

Perhaps Arsenal fans should take comfort in the fact those chances were rebuffed. After all this was the team’s 20th clean sheet of the season in all competitions and Wenger believes that is a key area his team has improved in.

Against Sunderland, Giroud and Gibbs were both denied by Pantilimon saves while Walcott, making his 300th Arsenal appearance when coming on a 67th sub, saw another effort cleared off the line. The closest Arsenal came was a header from Sunderland’s Billy Jones that so nearly ended up in his own net.

There were some disgruntled home fans leaving the Emirates as Sunderland celebrated survival — a few even dragged up that old shout of ‘Buy us a striker, Arsene’. No doubt that’s a refrain that will be revisited. But this night belonged more to Sunderland, to O’Shea, and to their great escape. Another life for Sunderland as Arsenal eye FA Cup glory

Arsenal:

Ospina 8, Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 6, Gibbs 6, Ramsey 6, Cazorla 6, Wilshere 6 (Walcott 67; 6), Ozil 6 (Rosicky 82), Alexis 6, Giroud 7

Sunderland:

Pantilimon 8, Jones 6, van Aanholt 6, O’Shea 7, Coates 7, Cattermole 7, Larsson 7, Johnson 6 (Buckley 75; 6), Graham 6 (Fletcher 46; 7), Defoe 5, Wickham 4 (Rodwell 46; 7).


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