Arsenal fail to score at home again, as Black Cats earn point for survival
Arsenal drew a blank for the third home game in succession, as Sunderland secured Premier League survival with a 0-0 at the Emirates Stadium last night.
The result leaves the Gunners three points ahead of Manchester United and requiring a point from their last game against West Brom at home this Sunday to be absolutely sure of an automatic place into the group stage of next season’s Champions League.
Arsenal also have a superior goal difference, of +7, over Manchester United.
This might still play a part if the Gunners slip up at home to West Brom, and Manchester United win at relegation threatened Hull.
Sunderland adopted similar tactics to those employed by both Chelsea and Swansea, during their recent visits to the Emirates Stadium.
Defnding deep, and looking for the occasional quick counter-attack.
Arsenal stared brightly with Hector Bellerin getting forward wide on the right.
Sebastian Coates almost turned Bellerin’s cross into his own net.
But after that Arsenal played with little or no width, and were content to try to play the ball through the middle of Sunderland’s packed defence.
The only save of note Costel Pantilimon had to make before the break sweat was to react quickly to smother Jack Wilshere’s run into the penalty area.
Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Mesut Ozil all fired half chances high over the bar from distance.
Olivier Giroud went closest to breaking the deadlock, collecting a ball over the top from Aaron Ramsey but his volley on the turn went just wide of the far post.
Sunderland made two substitutions at the interval and were far more threatening at the start of the half.
One of the substitutes, Steven Fletcher, almost put the Black Cats ahead straight away, latching onto Adam Johnson’s pass to bring a close-range save from David Ospina.
Fletcher went close again soon afterwards, outpacing Per Mertesacker on the counter-attack, while Ospina also denied Patrick van Aanholt with his legs.
At the other end, Pantilimon was finally called into serious action to parry Giroud’s deft flick and then leapt across to gather a goalbound header from Gibbs.
Arsenal sent on Theo Walcott, who burst clear and chipped Pantilimon only for Coates to hook the ball off the line – and there was another close shave for the visitors when Billy Jones headed against his own crossbar.
Fellow substitute Tomas Rosicky nearly carved out a winner, exchanging passes with Walcott before slicing wide, but the Gunners were unable to find a way through as Ramsey and Walcott were thwarted by Pantilimon in the closing stages.
The Sunderland players and staff celebrated their hard-earned point with their small band of very happy supporters.
They know they will be playing Premier League football next season. And can enjoy the spectacle of their rivals, Newcastle United, battling to survive the drop on Sunday.
For Arsenal the pursuit of a top three finish goes to the last match of the season.
Despite dominating possession and creating numerous chances again last night the form ahead of the FA Cup Final is a cause for concern.
There was a lack of width in Arsenal’s play and once again no conviction in front of goal last night.
It will be interesting to see what team Arsene Wenger selects on Sunday.
He was probably planning to rest a number of players ahead of Wembley, but can’t afford to take West Brom too lightly or believe that Manchester United won’t go on a goal spree at Hull.
If either of those happen then it could be a nervy finale at the Emirates on Sunday.
Arsenal: Ospina 8; Bellerin 6, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Gibbs 6; Ramsey 6, Cazorla 6; Wilshere 6 (Walcott 68), Ozil 5 (Rosicky 82); Giroud 6, Sanchez 7