Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott
Arsenal were held to a scoreless draw against Sunderland at the Emirates this evening as the visitors got the point they needed to ensure Premier League survival.
Arsene Wenger made two changes from the team that drew with Man Utd, bringing back Kieran Gibbs in place of Nacho Monreal and Jack Wilshere for £40m January signing Francis Coquelin. The England man began the game on the right hand side, at the expense of Theo Walcott who once more began on the bench.
There was early from the visitors when Ospina had to come out smartly to clear a long ball that almost found Danny Graham through on goal, while at the other end a low Hector Bellerin cross was hacked away by Coates.
Wilshere had a sight of goal in the 14th minute after a fine Alexis pass but saw his hesitant effort snuffed out by Pantilimon and, not to be outdone, Ospina smothered the ball as Jermaine Defoe got in behind the Arsenal defence moments later.
Aaron Ramsey picked up a 19th minute yellow card for a foul on Seb Larsson, and Wilshere was involved again when a nice move between Ozil and Ramsey saw the Welshman set him up, but his volley from the edge of the box flew over the bar.
Ozil set up Alexis for a volley which was cleared to Santi Cazorla, but his low shot was left Pantilimon with a routine save. Kieran Gibbs was next to have a pop but once more it was wayward, and when Wilshere set up Ozil with a nice ball over the top the German should have done better than smack it over the bar.
Arsenal’s number 10 was in full creative mode, next time creating a chance for Giroud but under pressure, on the turn and on the volley, his shot drifted wide of the far post. Ozil cracked another one over the bar with his left foot, Alexis shot straight at the keeper, and despite Sunderland’s stubborn resistance the Gunners lacked the imagination to break them down so the teams went in level at the break.
Sunderland made two changes at the break with Rodwell and Fletcher coming on for Wickham and Graham, and the subs made an almost immediate impact when the Scotsman found himself through on goal but Ospina stood tall to make the save. The Arsenal keeper then had to save easily enough from van Arnholt but the Sunderland player’s attempt lacked any real conviction.
At the other end Giroud’s fine flicked attempt from a Bellerin cross drew a good save from Pantilimon before Ramsey curled an effort wide. A Gibbs header also tested the Sunderland stopper as Arsenal looked to crank up the pressure and the game became more open.
When a fine Arsenal move broke down when an Alexis shot was blocked, Sunderland had a great chance to take the lead when Fletcher was sent through one on one. He tried to chip Ospina, it was probably going wide anyway, but the Colombian’s fingertips made sure.
The majority of the game was being played in enemy territory, prompting Arsene Wenger to make his first change as Theo Walcott replaced Wilshere in the 67th minute. Moments later the visitors had probably the best chance of the game. Sunderland worked it down the left, van Arnholt’s shot ended up as a cross for Fletcher and he poked it high and wide from close range.
Ramsey found the substitute with a brilliant pass in the 72nd minute but with the keeper onrushing he could only clip the ball back inside, and there was a stroke of luck for Sunderland when the ball rebounded off Jones and cannoned back off the bar.
As Arsenal continued to play the ball across the Sunderland penalty area, the manager made another change sending on Rosicky for Ozil and the Czech international fashioned a half-chance with Walcott but his left-footed shot went wide.
Pantilimon fumbled a Walcott shot but the defence scrambled it clear before Giroud could follow up, Ramsey saw a shot well saved, and Walcott made space but again saw his shot stopped as the game entered the final minutes.
Arsenal huffed and puffed but just couldn’t find a way through. The draw rules out any chance of second place, and means Arsene Wenger has got to make sure his team get something from the game against West Brom to be absolutely sure of third place.