Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech denies Sunderland a vital win

Black Cats move out of relegation zone thanks to point at Stadium of Light

Sunderland 0 Arsenal 0

Jermain Defoe had suggested that, after playing on Thursday night, Arsenal might still be "dehydrated" and Sunderland could benefit. It sounded a bit of an unlikely theory but, whatever the reason, Arsène Wenger's players were much less incisive than they needed to be on an afternoon when the Frenchman could really have done with silencing his critics.

Yet instead of an elegant riposte Arsenal laboured to a draw which leaves Manchester United with genuine hope of capturing a top four place at the Gunners’ expense.

As Wenger zipped his club anorak up tightly to the neck at the final whistle he may have been insulating himself against rather more than the chill Wearside breeze apparently drifting down from the Arctic.


Allardyce appeared equally gloomy but even though Defoe had misplaced his shooting boots a point was sufficient to take Sunderland out of the relegation zone, moving them above Norwich on goal difference and a point above second bottom Newcastle United.

If by the end Sunderland were a little disappointed not to have won they would surely have taken a point part-way through the first period. Passing and moving with infinitely superior fluency, Arsenal must, at times, have left Sunderland feeling dizzy and disorientated but, undeterred, Sam Allardyce’s players defended stoutly.

With Lamine Koné and Younès Kaboul emphasising precisely why their centre back partnership is keeping John O’Shea on the bench these days and Patrick van Aanholt – a left back improved almost beyond measure by Sunderland’s manager – subduing Alexis Sánchez, the visitors were repeatedly thwarted.

Already frustrated, Wenger also had to put up with a series of dangerous home counter-attacks, frequently initiated by the energetic, increasingly impressive, Wahbi Khazri. The visiting manager will not have been amused by the Tunisia winger's success in catching Aaron Ramsey day-dreaming, pouncing on a loose ball and unleashing a shot which was deflected for a corner. Ultimately that threat came to nothing but with a newly fit Jack Wilshere warming up on the touchline it did not seem the day for Ramsey to let his concentration wander.

If Arsenal were mighty relieved to see Van Aanholt's free-kick hit a post after arcing over the wall and leaving Petr Cech wrong-footed, they, too, had their moments.

Unfortunately for Wenger the vast majority of these attacking cameos featured half-chances, fashioned under intense pressure from not just Koné and Kaboul but the invariably abrasive central midfield attentions of Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff and Yann M'Vila. That trio's persistently assiduous attentions and interceptions went a long way to explain why Arsenal's crisp one-twos did not always quite come off and why their slick passing sequences were generally shorter than usual.

Evens so Mannone, a former Arsenal goalkeeper and a player Wenger retains something of a soft spot for, must have been delighted to see Alex Iwobi shoot wide when well placed and Olivier Giroud do likewise following his connection with Nacho Monreal's cross.

With Giroud similarly off target after meeting Sánchez’s cute lob Sunderland were finding themselves reprieved by a combination of poor final balls and the rewards of all that chasing and closing down on the part of Cattermole and co.

Allardyce’s problem was that, despite Khazri’s best efforts, Sunderland’s own passing was poor and their inability to retain possession was restricting Defoe, the lone striker, to near starvation rations.

Significantly, when Defoe did manage to unleash a shot it could have resulted in a penalty after hitting Per Mertesacker's arm from point-blank range. It left Mike Dean with a big decision to make but, almost certainly correctly, the referee refused to buy Sunderland's claims.

Arsenal subsequently had an, albeit rather more fanciful, handball penalty appeal of their own rejected after Iwobi’s shot struck DeAndre Yedlin but they had begun losing their early edge.

Perhaps inspired by Allardyce’s half-time homily, Sunderland emerged with a newly ferocious determination. Cech needed to be at his best to parry Defoe’s shot in the wake of Kirchhoff’s stellar pass before saving M’Vila’s follow-up and later did equally well to repel Khazri’s low shot.

Aware that nothing was really coming off for Mesut Özil and friends, Sunderland advanced with growing conviction. Defoe’s audacious attempt to lob Cech failed to come off – but only just – while the former England striker shot fractionally wide after meeting a high calibre Cattermole pass.

It was the sort of delivery Cattermole’s critics believe the midfielder is incapable of making but Allardyce’s decision to employ him in a slightly more advanced role seems to be quietly confounding the doubters.

Heeding the warning signs, Wenger attempted to reassert his side's authority by introducing Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck in place of Iwobi and the underachieving Giroud.

Still though Arsenal remained firmly on the back foot. Yet although a shot from Duncan Watmore – on for Fabio Borini – stretched Cech to the limit, Wenger looked set to celebrate when the otherwise commanding Mannone unwisely dashed out of his area and, watched in horror, as the ball bounced over his head. For a split-second Sánchez looked odds on to score but then Kaboul galloped in to make an 11th-hour clearance.

The time had come for Wenger to withdraw Özil and send Wilshere on for his first appearance in 11 months but, welcome as the midfielder’s return from a broken leg was, he proved powerless to influence a game by then heading inexorably for a draw.

(Guardian service)