LONDON – Sunderland secured Premier League safety with a magnificent display of defensive determination and organisation to get the point they needed at Arsenal.
Arsenal’s own point effectively means they will finish third behind champions Chelsea and Manchester City – but the celebrations all belonged to Sunderland as manager Dick Advocaat completed the recovery he has engineered since succeeding the sacked Gus Poyet.
On a night low on quality but high on the sort of tension these relegation struggles provide, Sunderland missed chances – with striker Steven Fletcher the main culprit – to avoid the desperate closing phase that saw them survive a series of desperate penalty box scrambles.
Goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon was a heroic figure as he produced a series of fine saves and handled with complete assurance in what must have been an excruciating last few minutes for the thousands of Sunderland fans who had travelled to north London.
Hull, who occupy the last relegation spot, entertain Manchester United while Newcastle host West Ham.
Steve Bruce’s Hull must win or they are definitely down; a Newcastle win will send Hull down whatever their result.
If Newcastle draw and Hull win, the Magpies will be relegated on goal difference.
Hull have lost their last three games while Newcastle have one point from a possible 30.
All the worries disappeared at the final whistle as Advocaat joined his joyous players on the pitch in front of their supporters, the veteran former Netherlands coach now a Wearside hero.
And, with survival guaranteed, Sunderland’s fans turned up the heat on their Tyneside rivals as they chanted “Are You Watching Newcastle?”
The Magpies, who host West Ham, will fight it out with Hull City, who welcome Manchester United, to avoid relegation on Sunday’s final day of the Premier League season.
Sunderland and Advocaat must now decide whether to continue their successful relationship – but whatever happens he is assured of his place in Black Cats’ folklore after taking them to safety.
They only needed a draw to ensure Premier League survival and their first-half mindset reflected their objective as they dug deep defensively to frustrate Arsenal, with Gunners’ manager Wenger an increasingly agitated figure.
Jack Wilshere did penetrate the blue wall of defiance but Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud were unable to take advantage, both unable to hit the target from presentable positions.
Advocaat made two changes for the start of the second half, sending on Fletcher and Jack Rodwell for Danny Graham and Connor Wickham.
The result was a more positive approach that brought three chances that should have been taken, two for Fletcher and one for Patrick van Aanholt, but Arsenal keeper David Ospina saved to keep the nerves of the travelling thousands from Wearside on edge.
As the game became stretched, Arsenal had opportunities of their own and Pantilimon excelled with saves from Giroud’s flick and an athletic stop to save Kieran Gibbs’ header.
Fletcher, however, was misfiring badly and was the villain again with two more bad misses that betrayed his lack of confidence.
The Scot raced clear on to Defoe’s flick but his over-elaborate attempted finish made life easy for Ospina, before the striker missed his clearest opportunity yet, scuffing over from six yards when Van Aanholt’s mishit cross turned into a perfect pass.
It must have been agonising for the watching Sunderland fans and they survived another scare when Jones, facing his own goal, headed Aaron Ramsey’s cross against the bar.
Sunderland survived several scrapes inside their own six-yard area before the final whistle was the signal for wild celebrations among those who had travelled from Wearside. – BBC Sport