Sunderland climbed out of the relegation zone with a deserved point against an uninspiring Arsenal. Both sides had penalty appeals for handball denied and Patrick van Aanholt struck Arsenal’s post with a free-kick. Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone had to be sharp to keep out Mesut Ozil’s free-kick and Alex Iwobi’s follow-up. Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere came on for a first game in 10 months, but the visitors relied on numerous Petr Cech saves to preserve a point. The failure to win could prove costly for Arsenal, who occupy the final Champions League qualifying spot, but lie just five points above fifth-placed Manchester United, having played a game more.
It was perhaps an opportunity missed against an Arsenal side whose performance was sluggish from start to finish. A 19th-consecutive season in the Champions League is by no means confirmed and after three draws in four games, and Arsene Wenger’s men are seemingly opening the door for FA Cup finalists United to make a late move into the top four. They forced the best saves from Mannone in the first half but were devoid of ideas after the break, when they could only muster two shots on target and none from their striker Olivier Giroud, who is now goalless in 17 Premier League games. The introduction of England trio Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Wilshere failed to spark any invention for the visitors.
Wilshere’s return will have been the greatest positive for Arsenal, 330 days since his last appearance for the club, when he played the final 13 minutes of the FA Cup final win over Aston Villa last year. He went on to feature twice for England in the summer but suffered a hairline fracture in his left leg in August and then needed an operation in September to aid his recovery. His career has been plagued with ankle problems and since 2013 he has been ruled out by 21 different injuries. The 24-year-old has less than three weeks and just three more games to prove to England boss Roy Hodgson that he is fit and sharp enough to be considered for Euro 2016 in France, with the squad to be announced on 12 May.