Advocaat in tears as Black Cats survive
Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0
One point was what Sunderland needed, what they came for and what they got. Dick Advocaat’s miracle mission was completed here last night as he masterminded the sweetest of dour 0-0s against Arsenal.
That single point is enough to propel Sunderland four clear of Hull City with one game remaining, therefore ensuring their survival.
Advocaat, who shed tears of joy at the final whistle, has overseen more exciting games than this but as the climax of his tenure, it was a triumph of the motivation, preparation and organisation skills which owner Ellis Short paid big money to bring to Wearside.
Sunderland defended deep and in numbers, and resolutely refused to concede a goal. They barely threatened themselves in the first half but, after the break, Steven Fletcher had three chances to score the winner they did not in fact need.
For Arsenal it was a night of real frustration, the third consecutive home game in which they have failed to score.
This point was not quite as valuable for them as it was for Sunderland, although another draw, or a modest defeat, here to West Brom on Sunday will be enough to hold off Manchester United and ensure that they finish this season in third.
But the similarity with their last home game, against Swansea City, will not be lost on anyone. With the season almost over, but with an FA Cup final left to play, Arsenal appear to have lost their attacking edge.
There was a clear lesson for Advocaat from that Arsenal game at home to Swansea, who dug in and scored with their only real shot five minutes from the end. So, hoping for the same result, he arranged almost all his players in their own penalty area, hoping to shut Arsenal down.
Desperate times require desperate measures and so Jermain Defoe was used as an unlikely left-winger, doubling up with Patrick van Aanholt, while Connor Wickham chased around in midfield, trying to stop Arsenal’s attacks at source. It was not expansive or exciting but it was not meant to be, and it worked.
Arsenal put a few sharp moves together on the break, both ending in half-chances for Jack Wilshere, on his first start for six months. But as Sunderland dug in, Arsenal could not break through. The visitors reached half-time still intact at 0-0 and were able to throw on Jack Rodwell and Fletcher for the second half, hoping to finally threaten Arsenal’s goal.
Advocaat then switched to a 4-1-4-1 system, with Fletcher leading the line and an extra man in midfield. It nearly worked perfectly, twice. Fletcher had barely been on the pitch when he took a pass from Adam Johnson and shot, forcing David Ospina to block. With Sunderland’s next move, Van Aanholt overlapped and forced another Ospina save, low with his legs.
Arsenal finally lifted the tempo, and Costel Pantilimon had to save from one clever Olivier Giroud flick and a powerful Kieran Gibbs header. As the hosts extended themselves, though, Sunderland could counter and when Fletcher raced on to a clearance, and ran through towards Ospina, he should have done better than his weak chip.
If that was a good chance, there was better to come when, with 20 minutes left, Van Aanholt drove the ball across the box, where Fletcher escaped from Koscielny but could only divert the ball over the bar. It was a bad miss and he looked imploringly at the linesman to flag him offside and spare his embarrassment. No flag came.
That was the end of Sunderland’s attacking threat and the final minutes of the game were a rather desperate, but imprecise, siege on Pantilimon’s goal. The closest Arsenal came to scoring, was when a cross surprised Billy Jones, hit his shoulder and then the angle of post and bar.
Walcott teed up Rosicky for Arsenal’s best chance but the Czech midfielder flashed the ball wide of the far post. The remaining minutes were taken up by desperate hacks and clearances, as Sunderland tried to get the ball as far away from their goal as they possibly could.
Pretty was not the priority when Sunderland sent for Advocaat and they got exactly what they paid for, so to speak. They will be in the Premier League next season, although whether Advocaat will be too is less clear. (© Independent News Service)