Wilshere back, but Arsenal held at Sunderland

The point took Arsenal level with third-place Manchester City, five points clear of Manchester United, which has a game in hand, but was of more use to Sunderland, which climbed out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

Sunderland's DeAndre Yedlin, right, challenges for the ball with Arsenal's Alex Iwobi during the EPL match on Sunday.   -  AP

Arsenal remains on course for a 20th consecutive top-four Premier League finish, but Arsene Wenger's men had to settle for a 0-0 draw at relegation-threatened Sunderland on Sunday. The Gunners' hopes of catching second-place north London rival Tottenham Hotspur diminished after it was unable to find a way past its former goalkeeper Vito Mannone at the Stadium of Light.

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The point took Arsenal level with third-place Manchester City, five points clear of Manchester United, which has a game in hand, but was of more use to Sunderland, which climbed out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

Listless display

Arsenal still looks a decent bet to finish in the top four and reach the Champions League for an 18th straight campaign under Wenger, but the Frenchman's detractors were hardly silenced by a largely listless display.

Along with moving level with City, the other main highlight for Wenger was the return from injury of Jack Wilshere, as the England midfielder made his first domestic appearance since last season's FA Cup final after coming on as a late substitute following a lengthy injury absence.

Arsenal had the better of the first half in front of another 45,000-plus Stadium of Light crowd as Mannone excelled against his old club. But it was decidedly second-best after the interval, and would have returned to the capital with nothing to show for its efforts had Sunderland shown a little more composure in front of goal.

In front of its billionaire US-based owner Ellis Short, the host came closest to breaking the deadlock before the interval despite being outplayed for long spells.Former Chelsea defender Patrick van Aanholt saw his curling left-foot free-kick from 20 yards come back off the angle of post and crossbar after a foul on Jermain Defoe in a rare moment of first-half danger for the visitor.

For the most part, Wenger's side was on the front foot, but was unable to produce anything good enough to beat Mannone, who moved to Wearside in a £1.5 million ($2.2 million, 1.9 million euros) deal in 2013 after eight years with the Gunners.

Handball shouts

The Sunderland goalkeeper produced a string of fine saves, the stand-out of which was a full-stretch stop low to his right to keep out a long-range free-kick from Alexis Sanchez. The Italian also showed his reflexes as he got down well to smother Mesut Ozil's deflected effort from 18 yards as Arsenal pressed for an opening goal.

It had strong penalty claims turned down shortly before half-time when DeAndre Yedlin charged down an Alex Iwobi shot with his arm, but referee Mike Dean was unmoved. He had also allowed play to continue earlier in the half when a snapshot from Defoe struck Per Mertesacker on the hand from point-blank range inside the area.

Petr Cech had been largely a spectator in the opening 45 minutes, but found himself thrust into the spotlight as Sunderland enjoyed its best spell of the match immediately after the re-start. The Arsenal goalkeeper saved well from Defoe's angled drive, before blocking the follow-up from Yann M'Vila.

He then had to dive full-length to his right to deny Wahbi Khazri as the Wearsiders gathered an attacking momentum. Defoe sent a looping effort narrowly wide with Cech struggling to cover after an excellent through ball from Lee Cattermole, and Sunderland ought to have taken the lead inside the final 20 minutes.

Laurent Koscielny inexplicably ducked under Khazri's corner to allow the ball to run inside Arsenal's six-yard box, but Lamine Kone failed to anticipate what would have been a free shot from virtually under the crossbar. At the other end, Mannone pulled off another fine save late on from Sanchez, but it was a rare moment of concern for the host as the attacking threat posed by Wenger's side diminished with each passing minute.

Key Opta stat: 

- Mesut Ozil has created 137 goal-scoring chances for team-mates this season in the top flight, more than any other player in a single Premier League campaign since 2003-04
- Arsenal has won just three of its last 12 Premier League away games (W3 D6 L3) after winning 10 of the previous 12 (W10 D1 L1). 
- Sunderland has kept three clean sheets in its last four top-flight games after conceding in each of the 16 before that.
- Olivier Giroud has now gone 14 Premier League games without scoring, his longest goal-drought in the competition.
- Jack Wilshere made his first appearance for Arsenal since the 2015 FA Cup final, 330 days ago.

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