It was a case of mission accomplished for Dick Advocaat as Sunderland secured their Premier League survival with an incredibly hard-fought 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Wednesday.
Advocaat’s men went into the clash knowing a point would be enough to preserve their status in the top tier and leave Hull City and Newcastle United fighting it out to avoid the final relegation spot.
However, the Wearsiders spent the vast majority of a tense encounter at the Emirates Stadium on the back foot.
Substitute Steven Fletcher spurned several opportunities to give the visitors all three points during a frantic second half, yet Sunderland were grateful for Arsenal’s lack of cutting edge in attack.
Only the woodwork prevented Billy Jones putting into his own net and giving Arsenal victory late on, but Arsene Wenger’s men are now all but assured of third place courtesy of their superior goal difference over Manchester United.
Arsenal spent the majority of the opening 45 minutes camped inside the Sunderland half but lacked the composure in the final third to break the deadlock.
The hosts’ best chances came as Mesut Ozil lashed over the crossbar after getting on the end a lofted pass from Jack Wilshere – making his first start since November due to ankle problems.
Wilshere then set up Olivier Giroud with a similar ball, only for the Frenchman to fire narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Advocaat made a double change at half-time as Fletcher and Jack Rodwell were brought on for Danny Graham and Connor Wickham.
And the changes almost paid instant dividends – Fletcher denied by a low save from David Ospina, who then thwarted Patrick van Aanholt at the near post following a superb Jermain Defoe pass.
Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon was forced into his first meaningful save of the match in the 56th-minute, diving brilliantly to his right to prevent Giroud from converting Hector Bellerin’s right-wing cross.
Still, the visitors continued to cause Arsenal problems going forward and went close to profiting on the counter, however, Fletcher’s lobbed effort was turned wide by Ospina.
Fletcher let another chance go begging by prodding a left-wing delivery from Van Aanholt high and off target.
Sunderland’s hearts were in their mouths when Aaron Ramsey’s deflected cross hit Jones in the face and cannoned off the left-hand post.
Pantilimon provided more heroics to deny Theo Walcott but, despite continued late pressure from Arsenal, a gutsy Sunderland hung on to ensure they can breathe easy on the final day of the season, while Hull and Newcastle sweat over their Premier League futures.
Advocaat was visibly emotional as he went to thank the jubilant travelling support after the final whistle.
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