Sunderland 0 Arsenal 0
A decade ago, the very same comments from Sam Allardyce would have been seen as a blatant attempt to taunt Arsene Wenger, back in those halcyon times when he was viewed as a threat by rival teams and managers.
These days, they were delivered more out of pity, from a manager usually notoriously short of compassion for his foreign counterparts, and they said everything about the way Arsenal have stagnated under the Frenchman.
“I’m sure Arsene thought this was going to be his year,” reflected the Sunderland manager, after his side climbed out of the bottom three for the first time in almost two months, albeit only on goal difference above Norwich, thanks to a third clean sheet in four games.
He added: “On the basis of what’s happened with Manchester United and Chelsea this season, the window has opened, but unfortunately for them they’ve not taken that opportunity.”
Allardyce has taken to watching episodes of the BBC police drama Line of Duty in preference to the often questionable drama dished up by the Premier League, and this 90-minute non-event is unlikely to persuade him to alter his viewing habits.
Arsenal now officially can’t catch Leicester, but on the plus side, they remain on course for a 20th consecutive top-four finish under Wenger.
However, that will cut little ice with the growing number of Arsenal fans who concur with the missed opportunity assessment.
Their trip to face Man City at the Etihad Stadium on May 8 is likely to determine whether they can edge out Manuel Pellegrini’s side for third and thus avoid having to pre-qualify for the Champions League, but a 12-point gap to Claudio Ranieri’s leaders tells its own tale of woe.
“We care about that (top four finish) and we worry as well because it’s a fight,” Wenger reflected after pointing to a Thursday-Sunday turnaround as a mitigating factor for his side falling away in the second half.
Asked about the title being mathematically out of reach, he added: “Frustrating. Like it is for many other teams.”
The rival goalkeepers took turns to excel in a contest that will not live long in the memory, Vito Mannone before the break, Petr Cech thereafter.
Sunderland’s former Arsenal keeper went full-stretch low to his right to keep out a long-range free-kick from Alexis Sanchez, and also did well to smother Mesut Ozil’s deflected effort from 18 yards as Arsenal failed to make their early dominance pay.
The visitors had strong penalty claims turned down shortly before half-time when DeAndre Yedlin charged down an Alex Iwobi shot with his arm, but referee Mike Dean was unmoved, as he had been earlier in the half when a snapshot from Jermain Defoe struck Per Mertesacker on the hand inside the area. Patrick van Aanholt sent a 20-yard free-kick against the bar in a rare threat from the hosts.
Cech defended the same goal with panache after the break, producing a double save to deny Defoe’s angled drive, and the follow-up from Wahbi Khazri.
Defoe sent a looping effort narrowly wide and Sunderland could have won it in the last 20 minutes when Lamine Kone failed to anticipate as Laurent Koscielny ducked under Khazri’s corner to allow the ball to run inside Arsenal’s six-yard box.
Wenger’s side can do Sunderland a favour by beating the Canaries at the Emirates on Saturday, and Arsenal’s woes were put into perspective afterwards by Allardyce.
“Whatever you say about them, I’d just like to finish fourth from bottom.”
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Mannone 8; Yedlin 7, Kone 7, Kaboul 7, van Aanholt 7; Kirchhoff 6 (Larsson 77, 5); Borini 5 (Watmore 74, 6), M’Vila 6, Cattermole 6, Khazri 6; Defoe 6
Not used: Pickford, Jones, Rodwell, N’Doye, O’Shea.
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Cech 7; Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7; Elneny 6, Ramsey 6; Sanchez 6, Ozil 6 (Wilshere 83, 6), Iwobi 6 (Walcott 71, 5); Giroud 5 (Welbeck 71, 5)
Not used: Ospina, Gabriel, Campbell, Coquelin.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
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