DAVID JONES: Forget Alan Pardew's or Spurs' motivation at Newcastle '“ if Sunderland produce, it won't matter
The memories came flooding back on Sunday of a goalless draw with the Gunners which last May meant Sunderland could start planning for another season in the Premier League.
Twelve months ago I watched from the TV studio at the Emirates Stadium as Dick Advocaat shed a tear on the turf and then spoke of the need to make the necessary signings which would bring an end to the annual struggle for survival.
He was persuaded to stay on, but his warnings weren’t heeded; the transfer window came and went with barely a tremor until a last minute scramble and nine games later we had three points on the board and were looking for a new manager.
And here we are again with four games remaining in our season, still unsure of which division Sunderland will be playing in next season and by extension who our manager will be come August.
Had Advocaat left straight after his great escape and Sunderland persuaded Sam Allardyce to come aboard then it would have been a different story.
I point to the success of Allarydce’s only transfer window so far and easily the best that Sunderland have had that I can remember; perhaps since Roy Keane’s first deadline day which transformed us into promotion contenders almost overnight.
Just imagine if Sam had been allowed to spend in the summer as well.
He knew by instinct what was needed: more power at the back, more craft in midfield and he used his experience with agents to make the deals happen both in and out.
In less than three weeks we will have the answers about where our future lies, but that’s when the tough questions must start again.
There is a power vacuum at the top of the football club now so all roads lead to Ellis Short, it will be up to him and Allardyce to plot a future for Sunderland that doesn’t involve this annual undignified scrap for survival.
Short will see the evidence of allowing a manager more power in the transfer market without the interference of a director of football, which on Wearside only seemed to muddy the landscape.
With Sam’s signings – Kone, Kirchhoff and Khazri – at the fore we now have a settled side, playing consistently well and improving by the week.
He has selected only 13 players from the start in Sunderland’s last six games which has seen us beaten only once by the champions-elect; compare that with Norwich who’ve chopped and changed with 18 from the start and Newcastle who’ve tried 17 different players in the last six.
The back four has now started these last six games together and barring the last minute surrender at Southampton and Kaboul’s momentary lapse against Leicester they’ve done very little wrong: back to back clean sheets is evidence of that.
But I couldn’t help but be disappointed watching the game on Sunday; I felt Arsenal were there for the taking.
It’s seven years since we beat Arsenal at our place and it might be another seven before we get a better chance.
Their season is in tatters, the manager is under more pressure than ever before and there was a lack of conviction about them.
Still every point is crucial at this stage and hopefully Arsenal are a lot better when they play Norwich on Saturday.
It’s at this stage when we start to worry about the mentality of the teams our rivals are playing.
Would Liverpool have surrendered in the second half on Saturday against Newcastle if there was still the chance of a top-four finish? Is it a good thing that their next opponents Crystal Palace are safe and have reached the FA Cup final?
I’m not sure how Palace will respond, but Alan Pardew certainly won’t lack motivation.
The worry now though is that on the final day at St James’s Park, when once it seemed Tottenham might be fighting for the title instead they will be running on empty.
But Newcastle’s improvement will serve to keep Sunderland focussed and now it’s all eyes on Stoke this Saturday.
Our relegation rivals can do what they like; if we can produce in these final four games, it will render their efforts irrelevant and then we can start the robust conversations around next season.