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shooting blanks

A big point for Big Sam but Arsenal's frustrating finish to the season continues

Sunderland picked up a valuable point and move out of the drop zone.

SUNDERLAND CLIMBED OUT of the Premier League relegation zone after holding Arsenal to a 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light.

Sam Allardyce’s men have moved above Norwich City into 17th place on goal difference after a spirited performance against the Gunners in which they created the better chances to win.

Arsenal, for whom Jack Wilshere made a first appearance of the season, started strongly, but struggled to break down a resilient home side who were happy to sit deep for much of the first half.

It was Sunderland who came closest to breaking the deadlock as Patrick van Aanholt hit the woodwork with a free-kick, before Per Mertesacker and DeAndre Yedlin both escaped conceding a penalty for blocking the ball with a raised arm inside the area.

Sunderland sensed a potential upset and showed more attacking intent in the second half, with Petr Cech saving well from Wahbi Khazri and Jermain Defoe in particular, before Arsene Wenger introduced Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck in a failed bid to find a winner that would have gone a long way towards guaranteeing a top-four finish.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Stadium of Light Scott Heppell Scott Heppell

Arsenal controlled the early stages and Alex Iwobi came close to an opener with just four minutes played, firing narrowly wide of Vito Mannone’s right-hand post after combining well with Alexis Sanchez.

Sunderland seemed to have shaken off some early nerves and came inches from taking the lead, with Van Aanholt clipping the crossbar with a curling free-kick.

Sanchez had Mannone at full stretch from a similar distance and the former Arsenal goalkeeper denied Iwobi from the resulting corner, clawing the ball away from goal as the Nigeria forward looked to turn home.

Defoe, left isolated for much of the half, saw his frustrations increase as he fired Hector Bellerin’s poor clearance straight into Mertesacker’s raised arm, only for referee Mike Dean to wave away his appeals for a penalty.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Stadium of Light Scott Heppell / PA Wire/Press Association Images Scott Heppell / PA Wire/Press Association Images / PA Wire/Press Association Images

And Iwobi was aggrieved not to earn a spot-kick for Arsenal just before the break after his shot struck the arm of the sliding Yedlin following Olivier Giroud’s superb lay-off.

Sunderland came to life after the break, with Cech denying the home side three times in just a couple of minutes. First, he parried Defoe’s fierce half-volley before turning Yann M’Vila’s deflected rebound past the post, and the Arsenal keeper had to be at full stretch to keep Khazri’s low shot from creeping into his bottom-right corner.

The home side continued to press, but Arsenal’s threat on the counter kept the game very much open. Iwobi sliced horribly wide after Giroud had picked him out at the far post with Mannone off his line, before Defoe lobbed the ball over Cech and narrowly past the far post.

Arsenal threw on Walcott and Welbeck in pursuit of a winner. And the latter was frustrated not to win a free-kick from a clumsy Younes Kaboul challenge after Mannone misjudged a charge off his line.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Stadium of Light Scott Heppell Scott Heppell

Mannone responded to keep out a crisp Sanchez strike with just four minutes to play, and Sunderland held firm for a deserved draw that gives them real hope of beating the drop.

The Gunners, meanwhile, must continue to look nervously over their shoulder towards Manchester United in fifth.

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