Draw gives Black Cats life in fight to stay in EPL

Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe vies for the ball with Arsenal's Mesut Oezil. The goal-less draw leaves the Black Cats with the finest of breathing spaces as they climbed out of the drop zone thanks to their goal difference.
Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe vies for the ball with Arsenal's Mesut Oezil. The goal-less draw leaves the Black Cats with the finest of breathing spaces as they climbed out of the drop zone thanks to their goal difference. PHOTO: REUTERS

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Sunderland 0

Arsenal 0

If the season finished now, Sunderland and Arsenal would have achieved their first objective. As it is, each must endure a nervous final three weeks to ensure they do not drop below a dreaded dotted line.

A stalemate leaves Arsene Wenger's side in the top four while meaning Sam Allardyce's team have clawed their way out of the bottom three.

Yet as Manchester United now have a game in hand on Arsenal and as Sunderland are bunched with relegation rivals Norwich and Newcastle, neither could be completely satisfied. Each could reflect on near-misses, goalkeeping excellence and rejected penalty appeals.

Despite the scoreline, there was plenty of drama, but no decisive ending. Few 0-0 draws are as eventful. Many are as inconclusive.

It was fair they took a point apiece. They even had similar cases for a penalty and, while many call for consistency from referees, Mike Dean displayed it by rejecting both.

Jermain Defoe's shot hit Per Mertesacker's hand and Alex Iwobi's effort struck the same part of DeAndre Yedlin. Dean was unmoved on either occasion.

There were plenty of other alarms. After 21 minutes, Sunderland's Patrick van Aanholt clipped the angle of post and bar with a free kick that Petr Cech was nowhere near.

Allardyce's men were particularly dangerous at the start of the second half, when Cech made a terrific double save to repel a fierce effort from Defoe and Yann M'Vila's deflected follow-up.

Defoe came close, too, with an improvised, audacious lob. The former Tottenham man was terrific, as quick of thought as he was of foot, to suggest he represents Sunderland's best hope of staying up.

But his Arsenal counterpart Olivier Giroud's top-flight drought has extended to 14 games, stretching over three months, one of the reasons why their title challenge has fizzled out.

Their menace came from others, particularly Iwobi, whose emergence has been a bright spot in a disappointing 2016. He had an effort cleared off the line at the end of a couple of minutes of intense first-half pressure. The former Gunner Vito Mannone clawed away Alexis Sanchez's dipping free kick and blocked Giroud's header before Iwobi, too, was thwarted.

He was replaced as Arsene Wenger looked for a winner. Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck were summoned. Jack Wilshere represented the last throw of the dice, the oft-injured midfielder making a belated first appearance of the season, but while the personnel changed, the outcome did not. Sanchez threatened but Sunderland secured a hard-fought third clean sheet in four games.

So, for them and Arsenal alike, the day of reckoning is postponed. Each have two home games remaining but as the Gunners aim to secure a 20th consecutive top-four finish, May 8's trip to Manchester City has become a must-not-lose match.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Draw gives Black Cats life in fight to stay in EPL'. Print Edition | Subscribe