Cats Eye View: How Sunderland are finally benefitting from Sam Allardyce's clean sheet mantra
If Sunderland are to stay up this season, the general consensus was that it would be the goals of Jermain Defoe that would seal it.
For a team struggling at the foot of the Premier League table since the season kicked off at Leicester City, it is remarkable they have a striker that has hit 13 league goals.
After all, Sunderland have been no higher than 17th all campaign.
It is testament to Defoe that he has been able to score the goals he has in order to keep the Black Cats within touching distance of safety.
The point against Arsenal saw Sam Allardyce’s side climb out of the drop zone for only the second time since the end of November.
A two-game spell in early March the other period.
Defoe wasn’t the hero this week though. Instead, that honour fell to the back five, so often maligned this season.
This point - which could prove pivotal come May 15 - was built on a strong foundation.
Vito Mannone was the busier of the two keepers, making several routine saves plus two excellent stops to deny Alexis Sanchez, including a fine stop from a first-half free-kick.
Sunderland managed three attempts on target while Arsenal saw seven attempts saved by Mannone or blocked by his defenders.
Mannone’s one moment of indiscretion came when he raced out of his goal to head the ball clear. The Italian got it all wrong but Younes Kaboul was there to mop up.
Kaboul didn’t flap, he was calm and composed as he cleared the danger. It epitomised his - and his centre-half partner Lamine Kone’s - performance.
Both were commanding, dominating the Sunderland penalty area and keeping a lid on what little threat Olivier Giroud posed. 14 league games without a goal for the Frenchman now.
Jan Kirchhoff’s trophy cabinet is groaning under the sheer weight of man of the match awards since arriving in January.
But the signing of Kone was just as important. And he is coming into his own as the season reaches a climax.
In the build-up, Allardyce was keen to highlight how unlucky John O’Shea had been in recent weeks, unable to get a game given the form of the French-speaking duo.
And after sitting on the bench for his sixth-straight game, his chances of being named in the starting line-up again this season are remote.
Barring injury, Kaboul and Kone are the clear number one centre-back pairing.
After three clean sheets in four games, there is no reason to change.
Alongside them, both Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin were much improved, going under the radar but consistently putting in good performances.
The extra focus on defence on the training pitches at the Academy of Light clearly paying off.
It has been Allardyce’s mantra since he arrived back in October. Keep clean sheets and Sunderland will survive.
He has been managing successfully in the top flight for long enough to know what it takes to survive.
Well, the Sunderland backline have taken the message to heart.
And in order to stay out of the drop zone, they must keep maintain their recent defensive record.
Should Sunderland survive, Defoe’s goals will have played a key part. They would have already been dead and buried without him.
But finally, the Sunderland defence has got its act together and is giving the side a firm footing from which to build.
Sunderland - unlike relegation rivals Norwich City and Newcastle United - are lucky to have both in their armoury.