SUNDERLAND will play Premier League football next season after a show of pure dogged determination saw the Black Cats earn a point at Arsenal.
Dick Advocaat - in tears at the final whistle - has fulfilled his remit of beating the drop, with a stalemate at the Emirates sufficient to mathematically confirm Sunderland’s survival and leave Hull and Newcastle to fight it out for the final relegation spot.
Sunderland were absolutely magnificent defensively, well-organised, well-drilled and had Costel Pantilimon to thank when Arsenal did create an opportunity.
It was Sunderland who actually had the better chances, with Steven Fletcher spurning three glorious second half openings, while Patrick van Aanholt should also have found the net.
But while Sunderland’s failure to find the breakthrough left the finale as one of full nerves, Advocaat’s men held on to extend their unbeaten run to five games - a sequence which has seen the Black Cats take nine precious points.
Adam Johnson, who had only been used as a substitute since being arrested and then charged with offences of sexual activity with a girl under 16 and grooming, made his first start since February as he took the place of the injured Liam Bridcutt in the starting XI.
It was the only change from head coach Advocaat, although there was a fresh face on the bench with fit-again Jack Rodwell included.
There were two changes for Arsenal, with Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere taking the places of Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin.
The game began in a low-key fashion, with Arsenal not genuinely threatening until the 13th minute when Alexis Sanchez played a perfectly-weighted crossfield pass into the path of Jack Wilshere on the right-hand side of the area.
It put Wilshere in behind the Sunderland defence, but it was a narrow angle, and Costel Pantilimon was out of his goal immediately to gather at the feet of the England midfielder.
The tempo remained sluggish - Santi Cazorla sending a low angled drive from the edge of the area towards goal in the 23rd minute which was routine for Pantilimon low to his right.
Wilshere produced a lovely dinked pass over the top on the half-hour mark for Mesut Ozil to run onto, but from the right of goal, he sent his half-vollley handsomely over the bar.
Two minutes later, Wilshere repeated the ploy of a chipped pass, this time releasing Olivier Giroud down the left-hand channel, whose half-volley drifted across goal and just wide of the far post.
Sunderland didn’t produce their first effort until three minutes before the interval when Johnson curled a shot a couple of feet over the top from 25 yards out after the Black Cats had counter-attacked well.
HALF-TIME Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0
Advocaat made a double change at the interval with Steven Fletcher and Rodwell introduced for ineffective pair Connor Wickham and Danny Graham.
And Fletcher had a glorious chance to break the deadlock within four minutes of the restart when Johnson found him with a clever reverse pass down the right-hand side of the area.
Fletcher hit a first-time shot, but it was blocked by the oustretched arm of David Ospina.
Seconds later, Patrick van Aanholt had an even better chance when Jermain Defoe threaded a lovely through-ball which bisected the Arsenal defence.
Van Aanholt had only Ospina to beat, but his right foot was relatively tame and the Arsenal keeper was able to turn it behind at his near post.
Pantilimon needed to produce an excellent save in the 56th minute when Giroud met Hector Bellerin’s right-wing cross with an improvised right-foot volley.
But the Romanian reacted well to palm it away instinctively low to his right.
Aaron Ramsey shot wide from the edge of the area, before Pantilimon plucked Kieran Gibbs’ header out of the air from another Bellerin cross.
Fletcher had another golden chance on the hour mark when Defoe managed to keep the ball in play and sent a pass forward which sent his strike partner in behind the Arsenal defence.
The Scot was clean through on goal, but on his stronger left foot, his attempted chip was parried behind by Ospina.
There was a third glorious chance for Fletcher in the 68th minute when he was picked out by van Aanholt’s cross-come-shot from the left.
Fletcher slid in and made contact six yards out, but he could only direct it over the bar, although replays showed that he was offside.
Substitute Theo Walcott saw his attempted chip cleared off the line by Sebastian Coates in the 72nd minute after being picked out by Cazorla’s perfectly-weighted through-ball.
Three minutes later, Billy Jones headed against his own crossbar after a mistimed clearance at the back post to Bellerin’s right-wing cross.
Arsenal substitute Tomas Rosicky fired a couple of yards wide of the far post in the 83rd minute when he played a one-two with Walcott and hit the reverse ball first time from the right of goal.
Pantilimon was called into action yet again in the 87th minute when he parried away Walcott’s angled shot after the England international had made a yard for himself 12 yards out.
FULL-TIME Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0
ARSENAL: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere (Walcott 67), Ozil (Rosicky 81), Sanchez, Giroud. Subs not used: Szczesny, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Flamini. Booked: Ramsey (18)
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Jones, van Aanholt, O’Shea, Coates, Cattermole, Larsson, Johnson (Buckley 75), Graham (Fletcher 46), Defoe, Wickham (Rodwell 46). Subs not used: Reveillere, Giaccherini, Vergini, Mannone